Friday Morning Worship: General Assembly 2014
General Assembly 2014 Event 302
DAVID GLASGOW: Good morning.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Morning.
DAVID GLASGOW: Does it feel kind of weird that we're already halfway through GA? Have you slept at all? We're going to be lighting our morning chalice in just a few minutes.
But can we do some singing together to get our spirits and our bodies a little more awake this morning? Unitarian minister and social reformer William Channing Gannett wrote our first term, which is a celebration of the timeless metaphor of optimism and transcendence that each sunrise brings to open minds. Would you sing with us?
[MUSIC—"THE MORNING HANGS A SIGNAL"]
SPEAKER 1: The anonymous text of this Spanish language hymn gives thanks for the love of heaven, for the immense ocean, and for the singing of the forest. It offers thanks, too, for the new day we are given, and for the love our community feels for one another.
[MUSIC—"GRACIAS POR EL AMOR"]
SPEAKER 2: English poet William Blake wrote the text for our next hymn, which assures us that however we are feeling this morning, whatever we are experiencing in this place, all manner of things will be well.
[MUSIC—"EVERY NIGHT AND EVERY MORN"]
Rev. Sean Dennison, Minister, Tree Of Life Unitarian Universalist (UU) Congregation, McHenry IL, and Rev. Sofia Betancourt, Interim Minister at the UU Church of Fresno, Fresno CA
REVEREND SEAN DENNISON: We gather as Unitarian Universalists in halls hallowed by our presence to be reminded of our shared commitments and to strengthen one another. Not only for speaking truth to power in our broader communities, but in facing the struggles that are a part of everyday life.
We support one another when we falter, while still holding each other accountable to our vision of love and justice. That love lives at the center of all that we do, regardless of our individual beliefs. And it stretches us wide enough to leave room for the teaching and learning that can only happen here.
REVEREND SOFIA BETANCOURT: That love reaches out. It allows us to risk, to stay present even when we are uncomfortable, and to keep our communities open enough, welcoming enough, that all might find shelter here. Love guides our very deeds.
This is our version of the beloved community, our collective vision that we hear about from our leaders, that so many of us long for, and that we model time and again when we lean back into love, show up as our best selves, and make the world anew.
Come, let us risk love, and let us worship together. We light our chalice this morning to call forward our best selves to the flame of our living tradition. We light our chalice as a beacon of truth, as a reminder of hope in hopeless times, as a promise to live into covenant together.
We are a faithful community that is grounded in love. Love connects us to one another. Love holds us when we falter. It guides us when we have lost our way. We come together to be reminded of this love and of all that it asks of us in our living.
In the words of the Muslim mystic and poet Hafez, we have not come here to take prisoners, but to surrender ever more deeply to freedom and joy. We have not come into this exquisite world to hold ourselves hostage from love.
Run, my dear, from anything that may not strengthen your precious, budding wings. May we soar together as this day unfolds.
Our first hymn this morning is adapted from 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13, Verses 1 through 13. It recalls our connection to a love ethic at the center of our living tradition. Please rise with me in body and/or in spirit, and join us in singing "Though I May Speak With Gravest Fire."
Hymn 34: "Though I May Speak with Bravest Fire"
An Invocation of Love
REVEREND SEAN DENNISON: To invoke love is to ask for a hug from a thunderstorm, spill tea in the lap of the infinite trickster, to make the biggest, most embarrassing mistake of your life in front of not just love but the love that never fails. To invoke love is to never know if it will come softly with the nuzzle of a beloved dog comforting a disappointed child, or a pounce right on your chest with the strength of a lioness protecting her cub, her pride, her homeland.
To invoke love is to take the risk of inviting chaos, to visit the spaces we have spent so much time making tidy, to watch as the breath of life fills the curtains and scatters everything we have only just folded and put away. To invoke love is to allow for the possibility that our words and our actions might become so empowered that we can no longer believe in apathy or take self-righteous paths of believing that we are impotent or that nothing can change.
To invoke love is to give up our self-deprecation, our false humility, and consider ourselves worthy to be made whole. Worthy and willing to speak those words of bravest fire. To be the voice of love and justice in this wounded world.
To invoke love is to turn an ordinary Friday morning at General Assembly into a time and a place where we surrender our egos into the hands of love, ready to be transformed, empowered, and inspired to do what only love can do.
To invoke love is to guard against assumptions, to take care without words to one another, to practice forgiveness, not as some ethereal ideal, but right here in the messy midst of this gathering, made up only of us, imperfect as we are.
To invoke love is to approach ourselves and this day and every person that we encounter with wonder. Anticipating loves arrival. Is this the moment? Is this love's arrival? Is this person the embodiment of love? Am I the one?
To invoke love is to play the fool, the one more concerned with loving than with appearances or reputation. The one who is ready and willing to be vulnerable, to abandon anything that gets in love's way. The one who has chosen love over fear. To invoke love is to be ready to become love here, now, in everything we do. Are you ready?
REVEREND SEAN DENNISON: Are you ready?
REVEREND SEAN DENNISON: Come, spirit, come. Our hearts control. Our spirits long to be made whole. Let inward love guide every deed. By this, we worship and are freed.
DAVID GLASGOW: I'd like to ask you to rise once again in body or spirit to sing "Filled With Loving Kindness." No, we would not. Would you remain standing and be in meditation with us as we reprise that last hymn that Sean mentioned? Just instrumental. "Though I May Speak."
Hymn 34: "Though I May Speak with Bravest Fire"
DAVID GLASGOW: Amen. You may be seated.
REVEREND SOFIA BETANCOURT: To invoke love is to open ourselves to the possibility of a life guided by love's spirit. This great gift, one that involves courage, vulnerability, and a willingness to risk lies at the very heart of our inherited religious teachings.
When we gather together in the thousands and our hearts spill over with the wonder of resting our spirits among other bearers of love and justice, we are reminded of both the heartache and the awe that come of a life guided by love.
This week, we are blessed by opportunities to bear witness and celebrate the many ways that, as Unitarian Universalists, we extend our loving spirits out into the world, out across communities, out, seeking to stem the tides of injustice wherever we might find them.
Yet we also know that our reaching out requires, requires a love that sustains us from within. And it is this great love that we nurture by coming together in our communities of faith. Come, spirit. Come, spirit our hearts control.
Offering our hearts to the control of the spirit is our answer to Paul, who, in 1 Corinthians, challenged that early Christian community to love, to not think of itself as all holy, as religiously complete just because they could prophesy, just because they had the discipline to live an ascetic lifestyle, or had a deep belief in their religious teachings.
He challenged them to keep love at the very center that they might live a balanced life. As Unitarian Universalists, we still regularly sing of our own longings, of our desire to live up to that call, to give our hearts to this way of living that is grounded in the fullness of love.
This is not as simple as it sounds. Living life as a Unitarian Universalist can be a formidable task. Some may write us off as being undisciplined, as having an easy go of it spiritually as we move through the world unburdened by dogmas or by creeds. But we have our own covenant within our communities, with each other, and with ourselves.
Some of us root that covenant in our connection to the holy. Some of us ground our practice in our hopes for humanity. Some seek knowledge beyond ourselves in the natural world.
And some, in the search for a hidden truth that lies at the core of our own beings. Yet there is still a common commitment to love that lives at the center of our tradition, and it orients us as we strive to live our lives in keeping with our values.
In 1849, one of our greatest theologians, Hosea Ballou, wrote a short essay on Universalism, working to explain what made this part, excuse me, of our religious heritage unique among the Christian denominations of his day. Time and again, he returned to the Universalist commitment to love, to embracing and understanding of our own inherent goodness that flows from all aspects of God, which themselves find harmony in an infinite, unchangeable love.
Anything that was not born of this love could not come from God. That love became the standard by which all theological knowledge was judged. And as a result, Ballou claimed that a true religious life consists in possessing, living, and acting the spirit of that love. Ballou's Universalism risks invoking love's great power.
It asks us to live out our faith moment by moment by investing and reinvesting this gift of love back into the world. Ballou was so certain of this love that he considered even our moments of failure, even those times when fear or loss, apathy or pride, lack of confidence or an inability to accept our own wholeness, dignity, and worth. All of those moments when we miss the mark as proof that we are called to a greater love.
In our current language, our own Reverend Doctor Rebecca Ann Parker writes that she knows love to be the gift of gracious transforming, unexpected invitation into a greater life through increased connection and engagement with others, especially those that the dominating society deems other.
I have seen this commitment time and again in our congregations, in our classrooms, and in the ways that we take this tradition out into the streets. Reverend Sean and I have both had the privilege of serving in ministry at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Stockton, California, and experiencing love woven fine through the shared ministry of that congregation.
I remember when one of our older members first joined the Church soon after moving into town for the first time. Her husband was dying, and they had decided to move her to the Central Valley in advance of his death, so that she would have the best possible start to the next chapter of her life without him.
I remember her bravery in seeking out a whole new community when she might have wanted to spend whatever time remained with her beloved. I remember how the congregation rallied around her, how they connected her to burial services in town, so that she would have less of that work to do in the time of intense grief following his death.
I remember how they welcomed her fully into the community, so that every time I reached out to make contact, she was with one or another member of the Church. One morning, it was coffee. Another, she was playing bridge. The next week, she was out for a walk or helping out with the Women's Alliance.
We lost her husband just two short months after her arrival at the Church. But the love that had poured out from that community held her in her grief and in her living.
Our spiritual covenant invites us to lean into that love. The question that remains is whether we are ready to become that love, to live it in the world.
This morning, we will hear from some of those who give of themselves faithfully to keep the loving witness of this beloved community strong. They do the day to day, moment by moment work of love on our behalf. Let us practice our living and our loving through our gratitude for all that they do. Let us spend this day risking love together. May it be so. Amen. Ashe. And blessed be.
REVEREND SEAN DENNISON: Will you join me in a moment of centering in a spirit of meditation or prayer? Spirit of life and love, we have gathered here, called by love, to respond in times of brokenness to ask imperfect questions, knowing they will refuse to remain unanswered. And instead, dare us to seek new opportunities to love.
In the helplessness of rage, may we look for the face of God, knowing it will appear even on our enemy, and will reveal the barbed wire barriers we have built in our fear, trying to constrain the reach of love.
In the slow quicksand of grief, when even our breathing is unsteady, may we allow holy hands to guide us to the gentle center of compassion, surrendering our defenses to the tender touch of love.
In times of boredom or dizziness, relentless ambition, obsession with perfection, we allow a crying child, orphan, stranger to break through the layers of expectation, dissatisfaction, and shame, and bring us, wide-eyed and open-hearted, back to love.
When our days are full of laughter, and rain comes and quenches the dry land after months of dust and drought, when hearts are glad again and full of possibility, may love trouble us and remind us that the gifts we have been given never belong to us alone, but are intended to be shared like loaves and fishes until there is enough for all.
Spirit of life, help us remember that the love we seek and which seeks us is the same love that will not let us go, the same love that calls us to respond. Help us hear that call and be faithful to it this day and every day. May it be so. May we be the ones that make it so. Amen. Ahse. Blessed be.
Will you rise once again in body and/or in spirit to sing "Filled with Loving Kindness?" This hymn brought to us from the Metta Sutra, or Buddhist teachings on loving kindness. Invites us to call ourselves, our neighbors, and our collective community into a practice of embracing love.
Hymn: "Filled with Loving Kindness"
REVEREND SOFIA BETANCOURT: Please be seated.
Let us remember the power of love to create beauty, to inspire kindness, to welcome the stranger. Let us aspire to reach beyond ourselves, our communities, and our comfort zones to take love out into the world.
REVEREND SEAN DENNISON: Let us give ourselves wholly to the enterprise of becoming love, embodying compassion, justice, and hope for our communities and for all the world. Amen. Ashe. And blessed be.