by Rev. Duncan Voice
There is a Flower, the Lesser Celandine,
That shrinks, like many more, from cold and rain;
And, the first moment that the sun may shine,
Bright as the sun himself, ’tis out again!
Opening Words – The Bright Thread of Hope by Gretchen Haley
There is too much beauty
in this world
to give up
and it is always too soon
Bring your doubt,
your downright confusion
even your bitterness –
but in the midst of all these,
in the centre,
wrap your tender fingers
around that still
feel in your heart that
still steady hunger for
in the rising sun
across the foothills
that spreads across
of the one we love
the look of knowing
all there is to know
loving life, loving us
just as it is, just as we are.
For this hour
we come to
celebrate, to praise, to give thanks
to refuse to give up
to steady ourselves
keepers of hope
brave builders of
Come, let us worship, together.
We light our chalice
as a symbol of loving community.
Here, may we find
illumination for our way,
and the warmth of togetherness.
Lord’s Prayer recast by Jacob Trapp
O thou whose kingdom is within,
May all thy names be hallowed.
May no one of them be turned against the others
To divide those who address thee.
May thy presence be made know to us
In mercy, love and justice.
May thy kingdom come to be in the life of all people.
May it come with peace, with sharing,
And in a near time.
Give us this day our daily bread,
To be broken and blessed,
free from all alienation.
Keep us from trespass against others,
And from feeling that others are trespassing against us.
Forgive our slow, slow forgiving.
Forgive us (for our need is great)
Infinitely more than we have forgiven.
Deliver us from being tempted by lesser things
To be heedless of the one great thing:
The gift of thyself in us.
Story by Anthony de Mello from Taking Flight
A man took his new hunting dog out on a trial hunt. presently he shot a duck that fell into the lake. the dog walked over the water, picked up the duck, and brought it back to his master.
The man was flabbergasted! he shot another duck. Once again, while he rubbed his eyes in disbelief, the dog walked over the water to retrieve the duck.
Hardly daring to believe what he had seen, he called his neighbour for a shoot the following day. Once again, each time he or his neighbour hit a bird, the dog would walk over the water and bring the bird in. The man said nothing. Neither did his neighbour. Finally, unable to contain himself any longer, he blurted out,
“Did you notice anything strange about that dog?”
The neighbour rubbed his chin pensively. “Yes,” he finally said. “Come to think of it, I did! That dog can’t swim!”
Jesus Appears to Seven Disciples
John 21: 1-13
After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
Reading: Marginal Wisdom by Leslie Takahashi Morris
They teach us to read in black and white.
Truth is this – the rest is false.
You are whole – or broken.
Who you love is acceptable – or not.
Life tells its truth in many hues.
But we are taught to think either/or.
To believe the teachings of Jesus – OR Buddha.
To believe in human potential – OR a poer beyond a single will.
Life embraces multiple truths, speaks of both, and of and.
We are taught to see in absolutes.
Good versus evil.
Male versus female,
Old versus young,
Gay versus straight.
Let us see the fractions, the spectrum, the margins.
Let us open our hearts to the complexity of our worlds.
Let us make sanctuaries, to nurture our many identities.
The day is coming when we will know
That the rainbow world is more gorgeous than the monochrome,
That a river of identities can ebb and flow over the static, stubborn rocks in its course.
That margins hold the centre.
From Voices from the Margins edited by Jacqui James and Mark D. Morrison-Reed published by Skinner House Books.
Meditation: Breakfast on the Beach by Cliff Reed
[Let’s first, pause for a time silence before we listen to this meditation by Cliff Reed]
“He comes to us as one unknown” – Albert Schweitzer
Breakfast on the beach.
Fresh fish sizzle over a charcoal fire.
New loaves, warm from the oven, lie in a basket.
The beckoning aromas mingle in the still, morning air,
wafting over the lake where pied kingfishers dive and
a fishing boat heads for shore.
“Come and have breakfast!” – an invitation from a
stranger, from one unknown; an invitation to
restored community, to shared pleasures,
and good company after hard work.
Where, now, is Jesus –
carpenter, cook, and friend of fishermen?
Not in a distant heaven, not in the books of doctrine,
not in philosopher’s creeds:
Jesus is where people gather to share in warm
and wholesome fellowship.
God of our hearts, help us to know you
in the richness of your creation.
Bless all who care for it, so that its bounty
may never end.
May we know you in the stranger
who invites us to share it lovingly,
generously , and wisely. Amen
Easter is here once more. Traditionally a time of hope and renewal. In the stories of the New Testament Jesus returns to his followers; in nature we become aware of increasing activity and new growth, and an emerging warmth that we all welcome. Usually it is a time to gather as friends and families, although for us at this time, this remains a future promise; but also it is a time for us to reflect on where we are spiritually. Do we recognise what is most important to us as individuals and communities; and if we do, is this at the centre of our lives or have other concerns taken its place?
Recently I was watching an interview with Sir Elton John, by Graham Norton, recorded back in 2019 I think. I am not, as a rule, into celebrity adoration, but the interview was quiet frank in places. Elton John is undoubtedly a great musical talent who has enjoyed a long and successful career, but along with the highs have come some lows. In fact some very low points. There were times that were so low they were life threating, involving addiction to alcohol and drugs, along with other obsessions such as a financially ruinous shopping habit.
Eventually he sought help and began to wake up to the utter mess that his life had become, spending a number of weeks at an addiction clinic. There, he recalled, they used a ring donut as a metaphor to think about his life. They asked him to think about what he placed at the centre of the donut, the centre of his life. What had become most important, what did his life revolve around, the drink the drugs etc.; and then to think about what could be there. What were the important things that had been pushed out by addictions and obsessions, what were the important things waiting to be discovered? From there he began to take the first faltering steps of recovery, regaining his health, happiness and meaning in his life; and some form of spirituality I sensed. He’s been sober for over 20 years now.
A donut is an amusing metaphor I guess, but its seems to work as a form of reflection and visualisation about our lives. It’s quiet apt to think about a part of us being a void that can be filled, and perhaps needs to be filled. We can experience emptiness and reach for something to distract us or ease the pain. That thing or things can become wildly dominant in our lives. It seems we all, even if we don’t consider ourselves religious or spiritual, worship something.
To worship means “to give greatest worth to”; it could be anything. We might not even realise it or have considered it, but our lives revolve around something! We may have sleep walked into giving something the greatest importance or value in our lives, when in fact all it does is bring us pain, unhappiness or chaos. Perhaps we may even perceive the centre of our lives as meaninglessness. So finding ways to re-evaluate and reflect on what is at our spiritual centre is important I think!
I consider the stories in the Bible as, among other things, tools for reflection, but I haven’t always felt like that. It has taken me time to find ways of reading them that seem meaningful. At times, and this still happens, I have found them obscure and perplexing. Some bits don’t seem to relate to 21st century life and some bits stretch our credulity. Miracles for example, including the biggest miracle of them all, and what today celebrates, Jesus’ resurrection and appearance to his followers. Some religious groups ask us to put bury our doubts and simply say “we believe”, and these statements of belief become more important than honest reflection; but this doesn’t seem helpful to me.
Unitarian thought is grounded in trying to understand the facts; in the logical, the rational and the reasonable. Trying to discern wisdom among the myths. For example in 1820 Unitarian Thomas Jefferson, president of the United States of America between 1801-1809, created a book which he called The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. The book left out miracles and most of the supernatural.
Jefferson literally cut out sections of the Gospels to form the text of this volume, which wasn’t published until after his death and became known as The Jefferson Bible. Unfortunately it didn’t cause him to reflect on his own morals and the fact that he was a slave owner! He was clearly a very clever person, but he apparently couldn’t see the great evil that was before him. Perhaps he relied too much on that great intellect?
The book is a is good indication of Unitarian thought at the time though. Some people were convinced that the words and wisdom of the historical Jesus could be discerned and used as a moral compass, and that the more uncomfortable supernatural bits could be pushed to one side and dismissed. It seemed a more intellectually credible approach. His books ends, “There laid they Jesus: and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.” So that was that, no resurrection then!
Facts are important. In a world of misinformation and “fake news” we know this more than ever. Opinions and malicious lies masquerading as facts can be very harmful, creating hatred and mistrust. They can spread quickly too, as author Terry Pratchett puts it, “A lie can run round the world before the truth has got its boots on!” But religious or spiritual truth, or experience, is a matter of the heart; and it is the story that opens the human heart not logic or reason or facts, necessary though those things are.
The character Jesus in the New Testament stories becomes the object of our attention and affection not for historical factual reasons, but because he is the embodiment of goodness, of light, of love, of God in recognisable form for some. When the disciples fail to recognise him in their midst they fail to recognise these things in their lives, and we are asked to reflect, are we doing the same? Do we need to wake up to our lives?
In his book Mindfulness and Christian Spirituality Tim Stead says this,
In one of the Anglican eucharistic prayers comes the phrase: “[He] revealed the resurrection by rising to new life”. When I link Jesus’ resurrection with the idea that he was fully awake, I don’t mean he became awake after his resurrection, but that the resurrection revealed that he was a fully awake being – and had been all along.
I realise that we are more familiar with the phrase “awakened one” from Buddhist teaching than in Christianity, and in particular it describes the Buddha himself. But actually many in the Buddhist tradition would not claim the phrase exclusively for followers of the Buddha; they are happy for it to be used to describe anyone who has become fully awake, by whatever path.
By whatever path. We all have our different paths to follow, even if we travel together for a while. So we all share this call to wake up to what is important. Something that we can discover deep in our heart. Somewhere perhaps only our imagination can take us; a place of discovery and possibility.
There can be no doubt about the importance of the resurrection stories to early Christian communities, and later ones, and they may well have understood them in a more literal way, but what was important was how they felt. The thought of Jesus being present among them would have given them strength, comfort and inspiration during difficult times. God somehow became more real, whether on the shore of the sea of galilee or at work or at home; and most importantly this gave them hope.
By reflecting on these stories perhaps we too can share in that hope. By putting aside our incredulity and cynicism, perhaps we can enter this place where we might find comfort or challenge according to our need. Can we unencumber ourselves from intellectual, cultural and theological baggage to simply be? To allow the story to speak to us. To awaken us to a new reality.
May it be so.
As we go from here
may we be awake to
the love in our hearts
and all the possibilities of life;
and may the God of our understanding
be with us now and always. Amen.