“Covenant”

Worship Script 4


Covenant
Worship Script (4 of 4)

 

OPENING WORDS

Come, souls thirsting for justice

Come, those thirsting for mercy

Come, all who are hungry for compassion

And those who dream of the Beloved Community.

Come, you who are hurting this morning,

And come, you who are filled with delight

Come, you curious ones, and you brave ones,

And those of you trying to be brave

Let us all feel ourselves welcome,

Held and beheld by beauty

This morning.

Let us worship together

 

HYMN #23 Bring Many Names

 

 FIRST READING

“The forsaking of all others is a keeping of faith, not just with the chosen one, but with the ones forsaken. The marriage vow unites not just a woman and a man with each other; it unites each of them with the community in a vow of sexual responsibility toward all others. The whole community is married, realizes its essential unity, in each of its marriages...
Marital fidelity, that is, involves the public or institutional as well as the private aspect of marriage. One is married to marriage as well as to one's spouse. But one is married also to something vital of one's own that does not exist before the marriage: one's given word. It now seems to me that the modern misunderstanding of marriage involves a gross misunderstanding and underestimation of the seriousness of giving one's word, and of the dangers of breaking it once it is given. Adultery and divorce now must be looked upon as instances of that disease of word-breaking, which our age justifies as "realistic" or "practical" or "necessary," but which is tattering the invariably single fabric of speech and trust.
― Wendell Berry,

 

SECOND READING

 Buffalo and Eagle Wing, a Blackfoot Legend

A long time ago there were no stones on the earth. The mountains, hills, and valleys were not rough, and it was easy to walk on the ground swiftly. There were no small trees at that time either. All the bushes and trees were tall and straight and were at equal distances. So a man could travel through a forest without having to make a path. 

At that time, a large buffalo roamed over the land. From the water, he had obtained his spirit power--the power to change anything into some other form. He would have that power as long as he only drank from a certain pool. 

In his wanderings, Buffalo often traveled across a high mountain. He liked this mountain so much that one day he asked it, "Would you like to be changed into something else?" 

"Yes," replied the mountain. "I would like to be changed into something nobody would want to climb over." 

"All right," said Buffalo. "I will change you into something hard that I will call 'stone.' You will be so hard that no one will want to break you and so smooth that no one will want to climb you." 

So Buffalo changed the mountain into a large stone. "And I give you the power to change yourself into anything else as long as you do not break yourself." 

Only buffaloes lived in this part of the land. No people lived here. On the other side of the mountain lived men who were cruel and killed animals. The buffaloes knew about them and stayed as far away from them as possible. But one day Buffalo thought he would like to see these men. He hoped to make friends with them and persuade them not to kill buffaloes. 

So he went over the mountain and traveled along a stream until he came to a lodge. There lived an old woman and her grandson. The little boy liked Buffalo, and Buffalo liked the little boy and his grandmother. He said to them, "I have the power to change you into any form you wish. What would you like most to be?" 

"I want always to be with my grandson. I want to be changed into anything that will make it possible for me to be with him, wherever he goes." 

"I will take you to the home of the buffaloes," said their guest. "I will ask them to teach the boy to become a swift runner. I will ask the water to change the grandmother into something, so that you two can always be together."

So Buffalo, the grandmother, and the little boy went over the mountain to the land of the buffaloes. 

"We will teach you to run swiftly," they told the boy, "if you will promise to keep your people from hunting and killing buffaloes." 

"I promise," said the boy. 

The buffaloes taught him to run so fast that not one of them could keep up with him. The old grandmother could follow him wherever he went, for she had been changed into Wind. 

The boy stayed with the buffaloes until he became a man. Then they let him go back to his people, reminding him of his promise. Because he was such a swift runner, he became a leader of the hunters. They called him Eagle Wing. 

One day the chief called Eagle Wing to him and said to him, "My son, I want you to take the hunters to the buffalo country. We have never been able to kill buffaloes because they run so very fast. But you too can run fast. If you will kill some buffaloes and bring home the meat and the skins, I will adopt you as my son. And when I die, you will become chief of the tribe." 

Eagle Wing wanted so much to become chief that he pushed from his mind his promise to the buffaloes. He started out with the hunters, but he climbed the mountain so fast that they were soon left far behind. On the other side of the mountain, he saw a herd of buffaloes. They started to run in fright, but Eagle Wing followed them and killed most of them. 

Buffalo, the great one who got his power from the water, was away from home at the time of the hunt. On his way back he grew so thirsty that he drank from some water on the other side of the mountain not from his special pool. When he reached home and saw what the hunter had done, he became very angry. He tried to turn the men into grass, but he could not. Because he had drunk from another pool, he had lost his power to transform. 

Buffalo went to the big stone that had once been a mountain. 

"What can you do to punish the hunter for what he has done?" he asked Stone. 

"I will ask the trees to tangle themselves so that it will be difficult for men to travel through them," answered Stone. "I will break myself into many pieces and scatter myself all over the land. Then the swift runner and his followers cannot run over me without hurting their feet." 

"That will punish them," agreed Buffalo. 

So Stone broke itself into many pieces and scattered itself all over the land. Whenever the swift runner, Eagle Wing, and his followers tried to run over the mountain, stones cut their feet. Bushes scratched and bruised their bodies. 

That is how Eagle Wing was punished for not keeping his promise to Buffalo.

 

.HYMN #18 What Wondrous Love

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES

This story is from the Cherokee people.  Once upon a time, a young boy happened upon a rattlesnake.  And that rattlesnake spoke.  It said, "Please, little boy, I have never seen a sunset.  Would you take me up to the edge of the mountain?  I am very old, and fear I will never see such a view."  The little boy said, "But you're a rattlesnake.  Why should I trust you? You are only going to bite me."  But the rattlesnake pleaded and pleaded, and soon enough, the young boy picked up the rattlesnake, held it to his chest, and carried it up to the edge of the mountain.  After the sun had gone down, the rattlesnake said, "Little boy, I am so hungry.  Will you take me somewhere to get some food?" Again, the boy paused.  But the rattlesnake persuaded him.  And so he carried him down to where the boy lived, and gave him food.  The rattlesnake said, "Thank you.  I am so old.  I have one more request.  Will you carry me back to my home?  It is far from here, but I know you will do it."  And the boy didn't hesitate once.  He picked up the rattlesnake, held it to his chest, and carried it toward where he had found it, in the first place.  When the boy had almost reached that place, he felt a sharp, burning sensation in his chest.  The rattlesnake had sunk his teeth into the boy!  Had bit him!  The boy flung the snake down.  He said, "You said you were not going to bite me!  I trusted you!"  To which the rattlesnake replied, as he slithered away, "You knew what I was when you first picked me up."

 

MEDITATION

Spirit of Life, Source of All,

Who we notice in our solitude

And is there in our companionship,

Shelter us in your love

As we reflect on what we've gained.

Shelter us in your love

As we understand the call on our lives.

Shelter us in your love

As we gain clarity

And decide today to do those things

We have been putting off doing.

Let us be brave in the service of truth

And compassion for all.

And let us fashion of our lives

Hardy instruments of justice-making,

Until all the world is set free,

Including ourselves.

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

Thus Do We Covenant…

by Megan Lloyd Joiner, minister, Unitarian Society of New Haven, Hamden, Connecticut

A number of years ago, I was the guest preacher at one of our small congregations in northern New England. It was a bitterly cold Sunday in February, and the congregation at the first of two morning services was sparse—so sparse it was almost awkward. So there we were, the ten of us, including my husband Anthony and
myself. And as I delivered my sermon, I noticed a middle-aged woman sitting in the very last row, with a boy about age ten next to her.

After the service, as I made my way out of the sanctuary, the woman from the back of the room caught up to me. “Reverend!” she called out. I wasn’t a reverend yet, so the title was still novel and made me a little nervous.

“Reverend,” she called again. “Can I speak with you a moment?” We found a quiet corner and she said, “I need to ask you a question. Today is our first time here, me and my son.” She took a deep breath and her voice shook. “I haven’t been in a church for a long time.” She paused. I waited.

She continued: “I need to ask if it’s okay that I’m here.”

“Of course,” I said. We are glad you are here. I’m not the minister here, but I’m sure someone would be happy to show you around…” I launched into my welcome pitch, not listening well enough.

“No,” she said, slowly. “You see, I’m gay. And I haven’t been in a church in a long time.” Her eyes filled with tears. And I understood the seriousness of what
she was asking. “I need to know that it’s okay that I’m here.”

“Yes,” I said, answering as I had before, but this time my eyes filled with tears, too. “We are glad that you are here.”

She nodded. And smiled. “I just wasn’t sure. Thank you.”

I touched her arm. “You are welcome,” I said.

I think of the trust that stranger placed in me on that February morning. Of the courage it took to call out. But I just happened to be the person in the pulpit. She was, in fact, placing her trust in the congregation, in Unitarian Universalism, in the people of that place, and, by extension, in all of us.

What courage it took for her to bring her son to church that February day, to open her heart again, to seek relationship, to offer her full self. I would hazard a guess that each of us has a similar story. A time when we began again. When we put our faith in someone even though doing so was terrifying, and we didn’t know how it would turn out.

Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker is the former president of our Unitarian Universalist
seminary Starr King School for the Ministry and author of Blessing the World: What Can Save Us Now. She writes, “All human beings have experienced the
impasse and anguish of violated trust. We all know the pain…of hurts that feel personal, of betrayal, of being told that we are not welcome. It is part of the
human experience, and it happens to all of us at one point or another.”

This is, in part, why what we do is so radical. UU historian Alice Blair Wesley reminds us that being part of a community like this, a freely-gathered, covenantal congregation, is a choice that involves not signing on to a list of beliefs, but rather a promise. In a speech for the 2000 Minns Lecture series, Wesley says: “Entrance into the covenantal community summons a lifelong, forbearing engagement of heart, mind and body.”

Choosing to enter into covenant with other people in a congregation, to make such a promise, begins with choosing to walk through the doors of a faith community again for the first time in a long time. It continues when we choose to try again after betrayal, when we choose to trust each other, though each of us knows the anguish of broken trust, when we choose to love each other instead of fear each other.

Being in covenant with one another means that we promise that we will engage our hearts and minds and bodies on this adventure of the spirit that we are taking together. It means that we promise to do our best to do what love asks of us, and to live together “with the integrity of faithful love.”

As Unitarian Universalists, we trace our roots back to congregations that peppered New England in the mid-17th century. Having fled the domination of bishops in the Church of England, our spiritual ancestors arrived here ready to embark on a new congregational experiment in which people attended by choice rather than decree, where freedom of thought and belief were paramount, where the way people treated each other became more important than whether or not they all believed the exact same things.

Alice Blair Wesley explored documents that chronicle the beginning of one of our oldest congregations—the church in Dedham, MA, gathered in 1638. She discovered that as the founding members of that congregation asserted their freedom from the Church of England, they sought to define what exactly a “free church” would look like. They declared (and recorded for posterity): “A free church is a group of people who want the spirit of love to reign in their lives.”

As Unitarian Universalists, we have inherited this definition. At our core, are we not a group of people who want the spirit of love to reign in our lives? We gather together bound not by creed, but by covenant; guided not by fear, but by love; informed not by suspicion and mistrust, but by promises we make to each other. Our ancestors in Dedham believed that the best way of being in relationship was to be in what they called “continuous consultation.” Doesn’t that just sound Unitarian
Universalist?

Continuous consultation. Members of these early congregations also called it “walking together.” So committed were they to walking together in love, in continuous consultation, that when there was a conflict or a disagreement, they outlined detailed guidelines for the conversations to be conducted.

Members of the congregation committed to listen deeply to each other’s truths, to work with conflict, to walk with each other in respect and love. Today we promise each other many of the same things that our ancestors did. And many of us believe that this relationship, this way of walking together, is the most important part of our faith.

Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, of the UU Congregation of Phoenix, Arizona, writes:

We sometimes wrongly say it is the absence of creed that is most important to who we are [as Unitarian Universalists]. This is wrong. Any one of us could practice religious freedom at home on Sunday
mornings. We could practice
religious freedom all day long, every day, and never come into community.

Frederick-Gray continues:

It is covenant that brings us out of isolation, out of selfish concerns, out of individualism, to join ourselves to something greater, to become a part of a community that is working to practice love, to dwell together in peace, to seek knowledge and wisdom together, to find better ways to live our lives and live in the world. This…is sacred, religious work.

It is.

Like all people, all congregations know the anguish of broken trust. All congregations have had their share of conflict and broken promises. Walking in love, in peace, in continuous consultation, takes courage. It takes the courage to begin again, the courage to trust in others and to allow ourselves to be trusted.

In the congregation that I serve, we have created a covenant that guides our walk together as we seek to be our best selves, within and beyond our walls, as we join in what Pope Francis named as the heart of all religious traditions: “the proclamation of the truth and dignity of the human person and human rights.”

We come together to celebrate the blessing of true community: the freedom to trust each other with our vulnerabilities and our truths, to treat
each other with dignity and respect,
to engage with forbearance, to keep
our promises, and to do what love
asks of us.

Never forget that what we do is important. Not because we can believe what we want or say what we want, but because of the trust we place in one another and the trust others place in us. What we do is important because of the stranger who has yet to find us, who will one day come to us with the memory of trust betrayed and say, “Is it okay that I am here?”And we will say, “Yes, we are glad you are here. You are welcome.”

 

HYMN #116 I'm on My Way

 

BENEDICTION

Be fools for love,

And pilgrims for justice,

And, until we meet again,

May we walk together

In Beloved Community.

Go in peace.