“Change”

Worship Script 5


CHANGE
Worship Script (5 of 5)

 

OPENING WORDS

As we gather this morning,

Let us be resolved

To be unafraid

Of how we will be changed,

Of how we will allow life

To course through us,

And connect us

To all that is true,

And all that is holy

Let us be resolved

Let us be open

Let us be changed.

 

HYMN #1 May Nothing Evil Cross This Door

 

 FIRST READING

“Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.” 
― Charles DarwinThe Origin of Species

 

SECOND READING

Every butterfly goes through four stages in its life.  These four stages are eggs, larva, pupa and adult.  The story of the butterfly begins when the female lays her eggs on a plant that the young insects will use as food.  From each eggs hatches a tiny larva called a caterpillar.  It is hard to believe that this wormlike creature will turn into a graceful butterfly.

The caterpillar is always hungry, and spends most of its life eating and growing.  It grows to fast that it outgrows and sheds its skin several times.  When the caterpillar has reached its full growth, it is ready to turn into a pupa.  The caterpillar spins a button of silk on a twig or leaf and hooks itself to the button.  Hanging head down, it sheds its old caterpillar skin.  Not it is a pupa.  The pupa’s soft skin hardens to form a case called a chrysalis. Protected by the chrysalis, the pupa changes into a butterfly. After about two or more weeks, the chrysalis spills open and the adult butterfly emerges its limp, moist wings spread and dry.  Then it flies away.

Humans go through different stages of life, also.  As we reflect on the life stages of other creatures, we’re invited to consider the stages we’ve known in our lives.  And what it would take for us to be ready to fly.

 

HYMN #354 We Laugh, We Cry

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES

This is a Hindu story about our month’s theme, “change.”  But instead of illustrating how one can change, it shows how, when someone wants to anger or bait you into abandoning who you intend to be, you can resist change. 

Once, Bhagwan Buddha was doing dhyan in the jungle. At this time, a man was walking by Bhagwan Buddha. He was lost, tired and hungry. Seeing the peaceful look on Buddha’s serene face, the man instantly became very angry. He started to swear at Bhagwan Buddha. He thought Bhagwan Buddha would open his eyes and respond.  However, Buddha’s face did not change.

Again the man yelled and swore; still no reaction. So he shook Bhagwan Buddha and said, “I’ve been swearing at you for a while; say something!”
Bhagwan Buddha replied, “I have not paid attention to what you have been saying.”

“You might not have paid attention to them, but you did hear them. So why didn’t you say something?” replied the man.

“Your words are worthless, so why would I listen to them?” replied Buddha. This annoyed the man even further. “And since I haven’t acknowledged them, they are still with you,” continued Bhagwan Buddha.

“How is that?” ask the man.

Bhagwan Buddha asked for a few coins from the man. Pointing to them, he said, “If you were to offer these coins to someone, what happens if that person does not accept them?”

This explanation opened the man’s eyes.  He realized, “If no one accepts my coins, then they stay with me. So, when I swear at someone, and if that person does not acknowledge them, the rude words will stay with me forever.” 

 

MEDITATION

Spirit of Love,

Be with us this morning,

As unexpected, unearned grace.

Let us rest a moment

In You

Until we are renewed

Not by our own doing,

But by our own eager receiving

Of all that is already here.

Let us be those who welcome,

And welcome again,

And welcome even more,

All the blessings of creation,

That we, in turn, might become

An instrument of peace,

And a channel of love,

That all those we meet

Might also know the endless blessings of love.

Amen

Blessed be. 

 

CANDLES OF JOY AND CONCERN

Those who are so moved are now invited to come forward to light a candle, expressing a joy or concern in their lives. As you do, you may briefly share what it is. We ask that people coming forward speak for no more than a sentence or two, and speak from the heart about issues in their lives, rather than political issues, which we can take up at coffee hour or in the parking lot.

 

SERMON

Transformation vs. AcceptanceBy Douglas Taylor

Changes have been made in this piece, so that Jane Rzepka’s exact words have been substituted in the italicized portions for paraphrasing by Douglas Taylor.

Transformation is part and parcel of most religious groups. The work of a faith community is to build a better world and to help each other become better people, to be open to the grace of God in our lives.

But it is right around here that I start to stumble a bit. I am a big fan of grace. I talk about grace a lot. I don’t insist that we all see it as “the grace of God,” but I do call us to see grace as a power that can bring out the best in us and help us through the hard times. That’s not the part that makes me stumble. What gives me pause is when the full meaning of that word transformation finally catches up with me.

Let me give you an example. During one of my first years with my congregation I was struggling to imagine what to say on a Stewardship Sunday. I’d figured out I couldn’t just talk about money—I knew that much already. So I was looking for an angle to speak about how important the congregation is to its people. I wanted to hear about what this place means. So I started asking for stories of transformation: “How has this congregation transformed you?” And you know what? That question really didn’t get us anywhere.

I found person after person saying, “I don’t know that I’ve been transformed here, I don’t think that’s the right word.” People would talk about how the community helped them live out their values, encouraged them to be better people, gave them support in justice issues they cared about or just support to get through another week in their hectic lives. One person finally hit the nail on the head for me when she pulled me aside and said, “No I don’t feel transformed by this congregation. What I feel is accepted, and that makes all the difference.”

And I knew that. But I get hooked by the shiny side of transformation. I get caught by the thought that our community can build a better world, that it does change lives and truly makes a difference for people. But all of that can happen without it needing to be transformation. I know that. Because when I sit back and really think about it, transformation is major stuff. It’s about a complete overhaul.

In a sermon at a UU ministers’ convocation in Asilomar, California, Rev. Jane Rzepka said something that has shaped my thoughts on transformation ever since. She told us ministers gathered there:

But I have to tell you the truth.  When it comes to your complete personal Transformation, I’m wary.  The thing is, I pretty much like all of you to begin with.  I like who you are, what you look like, who you’ve chosen to love, how you do ministry, how you’re motivated to grow.  I like that you have your own trajectory, your own background, I like that you have a theology unique to yourself, and I like that you have your quirks.  I like that you look like yourself and act like yourself—in fact generally speaking, my own theology calls for promoting your being who you are.  And if by Friday you have each transformed yourselves into an auditorium full of different colleagues, I’m going to be feeling mighty discombobulated and a little disappointed.

Personal Transformation is a big deal.  It’s more than being changed.  You are not the old person at all; you are a whole new person.  Those of you who have been through it speak of a crushing, transformative illness or accident, or grappling with addiction or a destructive relationship, or the devastating loss of someone you loved, or the painful yet life-saving coming-to-grips with who you really are, the lifting of burdens. I don’t hear so much about ecstatic Transformation born of wonder, but some among you may have had that experience.  Whatever the case, personal transformation blasts you right off the horse and leaves you dazed and blind for a few days at the very least.  Nothing to trifle with.  Nothing to promise on our church Websites as an every Sunday experience, 52 Sundays a year.

We’re not talking about small self-improvements here, we’re not talking about losing ten pounds, or getting involved at the Islamic center, or having a new insight about prison reform.  Sure, go ahead and learn to be more patient or generous or open or welcoming, make a new commitment to political work in Nigeria or your latest writing project, find more room for joy, move toward healing in therapy or through love or by feeling the rhythms of the Pacific—I’m all for it, don’t get me wrong.  Each of us needs to make some changes.  But Transformation!

Transformation means complete and total metamorphosis. Caterpillar to butterfly, solid to liquid, man into beast, bread into wine. And certainly some of us may be ready to embrace that.  But I’m not sure I want all four hundred of us to sign up for it without giving it some serious thought.   I would, of course, like to be a better person, and if I make some progress in that direction between now and Friday, that would be welcome.

But I think that most weeks I am like a lot of our parishioners—not all, but most—when I say that I’m not looking for a religion that tells me from the get-go that I need a complete overhaul. I’m looking for a religion that first and foremost welcomes me as I am, a busy, flawed, often bewildered person who is doing her best in a complicated world.

If I were sitting in your pew-chairs this evening, about now I’d be muttering, oh, she’s quibbling, it’s all just semantics.   But no, we’re not talking semantics here; we’re talking about a foundational theological statement:  Are you good enough to walk into Unitarian Universalism as you are, or do we need you to change into something other than you are?  Do we lead with acceptance and an embrace, or do we tell you that you need to be transformed?  Can’t have it both ways.

And I take the side of welcoming you as you are.   You know the Mary Oliver thing, “You do not have to be good./  You do not have to walk on your knees/ for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.”  Well you don’t.  That’s the Unitarian Universalist theological position, the non-Calvinist-no-original-sin religion I was born into, and I’m still drawn to it.  Inherent dignity.  Inherent worth. Our theology says you need not be transformed first. Come as you are and be blessed.

Two of my favorite stories about our 19th century forebear Hosea Ballou make this point through his Universalist theology. The first is something of a parable. He responded with this image when someone questioned his Universalist beliefs:

Your child has fallen into the mire, and her body and her garments are defiled. You cleanse her, and array her in clean robes. The query is: Do you love your child because you have washed her? Or did you wash her because you love her?

And another story comes as he was visiting a member of the town and saw her sweeping the kitchen floor. He asked: Did you require someone to sweep the floor clean before you would sweep it, good woman? You can imagine her response: What a ridiculous question, of course not. Ballou’s point was: So it is with God. You need not have already been cleansed before God will accept you and make you clean.

Our theology says you need not be transformed first. Come as you are and be blessed. Yet it must be some foible of my own that keeps me looking to that shiny idea of transformation. I am drawn to stories of how people have overcome despair and struggle to come out the other side. But when I relax I can see the truth of it. We are a place of acceptance, and that in itself is powerful and rare and allows us to be an amazing community of grace in our own unique and authentic style.

Being accepted is major stuff. And as Carl Rogers says:, “It wasn’t until I accepted myself just as I was in this moment, that I was free to change.” A pre-condition to true transformation, then, is to accept ourselves in the moment.

So maybe one way Unitarian Universalism can find an authentic way into the idea of transformation is to start with acceptance. Maybe we can hear the call for transformation not as a hint that we are somehow not good enough as we are, that we are flawed and unacceptable as we begin.

Maybe, instead, we can hear it the way a Zen Buddhist master once put it: “You are perfect just the way you are…and you could use some improvement.” You are acceptable, even perfect. You are who you are and it is beautiful. But don’t stop! Keep growing, keep improving, keep getting better.

Maybe the call to transformation is a call to continue to grow, not because who you are now is not good enough, but rather because who you yet can be is still more amazing! It is not static. Nothing is. Change is a constant, and what is transformation but the most extreme form of change? But change in itself is not good or bad; it just is.

Consider the song we sing from our hymnal (#188) with words by Rumi:

Come, come, whoever you are, wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. Ours is no caravan of despair. Come, yet again, come.

It doesn’t say:

Welcome to the place where we sit down at the end. It says: Welcome to the journey, welcome into the caravan. Let’s move.

Perhaps our work in Unitarian Universalism is not to help anyone transform, but to get us through a transformation should one arrive. Our call may be to help build up community support and strength of spirit to sustain us through a transformation should we find ourselves in one.

Our work here is acceptance first. And in accepting, may we provide the resources for each of us to also be more accepting of each other, and of the unfolding of life. As we create this community of support and acceptance, may we also build the capacity for each of us to weather our storms, and be transformed.

Changes have been made in this piece, so that Jane Rzepka’s exact words have been substituted for paraphrasing by Douglas Taylor. 

 

HYMN #318 We Would Be One

 

BENEDICTION

Go well now into the world,

Your head high,

Your heart open,

Your whole self ready

To welcome in a new day.

Go in peace.