“Covenant”

Worship Script 1


"Covenant"
Worship Script (1 of 4)

 

OPENING WORDS

Out of our separate lives,

From our separate pathways

Let us join in this meeting-place,

This holy ground

This holy time

This holy hour of our lives,

To declare and to feel ourselves one.

One in the spirit of love

One in the spirit of justice

One in the spirit of truth

Bound by the promise of care

With delight in this mutual promise

In this meeting place,

Let us worship together

 

HYMN #1 May Nothing Evil Cross This Door

 

 FIRST READING

The Jewish theologian Martin Buber famously said that our humanity is inextricably bound to our promises. He called us the “promise-making, promise-breaking, promise-renewing animal.” Riffing on Buber, UU minister John Buehrens said, “I believe that we humans are not so much homo sapiens (we are neither that wise nor that self-aware), but rather we are [the animal that makes promises.] We ourselves are created in the context of relationships, promises, commitments. We then either break them, make new ones, modify them, or renew them. To use a word deeply rooted in our culture, we are ‘covenantal’ by nature.” 

--Excerpted from Sermons by Rev. Thom Belote

 

 

SECOND READING

The Promise

BY JANE HIRSHFIELD

Stay, I said 

to the cut flowers. 

They bowed 

their heads lower.

 

Stay, I said to the spider, 

who fled.

 

Stay, leaf. 

It reddened, 

embarrassed for me and itself.

 

Stay, I said to my body. 

It sat as a dog does, 

obedient for a moment, 

soon starting to tremble.

 

Stay, to the earth 

of riverine valley meadows, 

of fossiled escarpments, 

of limestone and sandstone. 

It looked back 

with a changing expression, in silence.

 

Stay, I said to my loves. 

Each answered, 

Always..

 

HYMN #138 These Things Shall Be

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES

Today's story comes from our Unitarian Universalist history.  Years ago--centuries ago, in fact--there were free people in England, who were very interested and curious about their faith.  They didn't want to just go to their local parish.  They didn't subscribe to the set doctrine--the fixed ideas about what religious stories meant.  They kept discussing and discussing.  And soon enough they decided that, to be able to practice their curious faith in the way they loved best, they needed to strike out for new shores.  This was more than just a few people, by the way.  Throughout the decade of the 1630s, there was a steady migration of boats from England over to the Americas--to what folks were calling New England--where they'd form new communities, motivated by that desire to practice their faith freely.  Again, they didn't want a fixed doctrine, the fixed ideas about what stories meant.  So, instead, they gathered in "covenant."  A covenant is a promise of mutual care, made in the light of the holy.  It means that individuals were honored to be free in their exploration and the sense they made of life, but they were still loved and bound to the heart of the community.  In most places, the new communities in New England were intact from the communities back in England.  It was like the whole village just up and moved.  But in a few places, you had people from different places in England moving to one place in the Mass Bay Colony.  If that was the case, they couldn't just rely on the old covenant from England.  They had to create a new one together.  There's a story about one town, where townspeople met every Thursday evening for over a year, talking and talking, until they figured out and came to agreement on their shared covenant.  Can you imagine spending that much time talking to figure out your agreements?  Well, maybe you'd do it, too, if it was going to be the agreements that said how you would agree to live your whole lives in love and in truth.  Those are our some of our ancestors: people who wanted the freedom to figure out how to live together in love.  And we are their descendants, still figuring out how best we can live in love.

 

MEDITATION

Spirit of Love,

Source of Joy

You weave us together, 

And here we are, bound by love.

Some of us this past week have irritated others,

Some of us have irritated ourselves,

And some of us have irritated one another.

And still, here we are, bound by love.

Some of us rush headlong into uncertainty;

Others of us pause and consider a while

And still, here we are, bound by love.

Some of us wish dearly for some things

That others of us would never wish for

And still, here we are, bound by love.

Let this love that binds us in our difference,

Help us grow through it, because of it

Let us come alive to one another,

And to life itself.

And let us share that joy in living

With every person we meet

Blessed Be, Shalom, and Amen.

 

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

The Strength of Covenant

Victoria Weinstein, Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lynn in Swampscott, Massachusetts

I often wonder if there is much more going on with free will than meets the eye, especially when it comes to finding and joining a spiritual community. We do some research, analyze the doctrines and beliefs of the group to find points of rejection or agreement, and check out the other people involved to see if they seem worth joining up with. It’s all us, right? We are looking for a gathering of “like-minded people.” We are looking for a progressive Sunday school program for our kids. We are looking for a place that stands against hatred and bigotry and that will welcome a family that looks like ours. We are looking for a good music program or a group of people we can pray with in a way that doesn’t require us to utter words we don’t truly believe. We’re looking for a source of hope and dignity because those are in short supply where we live. It’s all about us and our minds and our reason, right?

I don’t know. Is that all there is? I don’t think so. I happen to believe that we find community out of a much deeper instinct than an internal check-list we’re looking to fulfill. I call that instinct a calling; a prompting of the soul. When we venture out of the confines of individual concern and into the demands of community, something deep is at work, and I believe that something has a holy origin.

In our congregations and our non-congregational Unitarian Universalist communities, we use the word “covenant” for the spiritual contract that binds us to one another in love, mutual aid, spiritual and ethical growth and reverence. The covenant concept originates in a moment recorded thousands of years ago when God pulls aside a guy named Moses (as God had already pulled aside a couple named Abraham and Sarah, and Jacob, and Noah) and said, “Let me make you an offer you can’t refuse: you are going to be my people and I am going to be your God.”

 The original story of God’s courtship of humans was not a subtle negotiation. What are you going to do, ignore a burning bush that is on fire but not being consumed? Moses objected that he wasn’t a good choice to be the matchmaker between God and “His” people, but God insisted. Moses subsequently did a lot of schlepping around with enormous stone tablets that contained the contract between the holy and the human. We know them as the Ten Commandments but the agreement was far more complex and detailed than that one list of conditions.

Serious relations are never easy, and neither was—or is—the relationship God’s people had with the divine or with each other. Some things never change. The original community that received this invitation to covenanted relationship refused plenty at first, misbehaving and rebelling and infuriating this commanding reality, but God did not forsake them. In a detail that always makes me laugh, the people managed to violate their covenant with God while Moses was still up in the cloud retrieving the tablets that had the ordinances inscribed on them. That’s talent.

 We are no less talented today at destruction, defilement, alienation and covenant-breaking and are therefore no less in need of being made “a people,” again and again and again by the commanding reality that we recognize in our communion with each other and with creation. It is one thing to learn to try to see the divine spark in every person. It is another level of commitment entirely to be in covenanted community with them. The word covenant can be used to describe many contracts and agreements, but covenants made in the congregational context always refer, implicitly or explicitly, to what Rev. Barbara Pescan called the “magnificent, unnamable intensity” that I believe is the source of our instinct to come together in community. It is in our wiring, or perhaps the soul.

What does this continuing, deep, sacred beckoning to be in relationship with the holy (which you may interpret as our values or principles) and with one another require of us right now? Is the covenant concept just an arcane curiosity from an ancient tribal people with rich imaginations that got picked up as an organizing principle for congregational polity, or is it a powerful through-line that binds us to one another, our history and our deepest communal calling?

I think that a covenant is only as strong as the community that adopts it. It can be a museum piece gathering dust in a congregational record or tucked away, inconsequential, on the last page of the weekly bulletin. It can be a formality that no one knows or cares about, or it can be a defining statement that is given life by frequent repetition, interpretation, and review. It can sit around looking fancy but doing nothing, or it can become inscribed on the people’s hearts to whom it belongs. A covenant should be revised with each new generation, however the community defines generation. When it no longer speaks and resonates for the people whom it is intended to bind together in common purpose and promise, it should be aired out and edited.

Ultimately, our covenants should speak both to us and for us, proclaiming not necessarily our reality as a community—for we are often a mess, depending on the hour or the season—but rather our aspirations. A contract implies a job that will be accomplished within a set time and under specific circumstances. Covenantal promises are based not on certainties and specificities but on faithfulness to the love that calls each one of us out of our separateness to become a people.

 

HYMN #146 Soon the Day Will Arrive

 

BENEDICTION

Let us go from this place strengthened,

Joined as one,

In this living covenant

That binds us

And encourages us

Each, in the Spirit of Freedom.

Go in peace.