“Giving and Receiving”

Worship Script 2


Deserving Gifts

Worship Script (2 of 5)

 

OPENING WORDS

By Emily DeTar Birt


Come as you are,

The tired or alive

Come as your are,

The strong or the weak

Come as you are,

The brave of the fearful

Whatever you bring,

Whoever you are

You are a gift to this community

Come and share in the gifts

Of each other.

Gifts that help to grow love.
 

HYMN #128 For All That Is Our Life

 

FIRST READING

From Acts of Faith: Meditations for People of Color by Iyanla Vanzant


We all come into this life with talents, gifts, or abilities, which, if we put them to use, they would be profitable to us and useful to the world. Yet, we allow ourselves to be told and we tell ourselves that we’re not good enough or that no one is interested i what we can do. Many of us spend the greater portion of our lives seeking authorization or recognition, never developing or using the goodness of the things we do naturally. If we would trust life and ourselves a little more, we would do what comes naturally, what we are good at, giving it all that we’ve got. If we would stop looking for fame and fortune we might find we are we are sitting on a goldmine of ideas and abilities. If we would stop blaming others and being ashamed of ourselves, there would be no way we could expect or accept anything less than the best from ourselves and for ourselves. F we would stop chasing castles in the sky ad do what we can, where we are, the would would probably appreciate it and reward us greatly.
 

 

SECOND READING
Bring Your Broken Hallelujah by Rev. Theresa Ines Soto
 

Bring your broken hallelujah here.
Bring the large one that is beyond
Repair. Bring the small one that’s
too soft to share. Bring your broken
Hallelujah here. I know that people
Have told you that before you can give
You have to get yourself together. They
Overstated the value of perfection by a
Lot. Or they forgot. You are the gift.
We all bring some broken things, songs
and dreams, and long lost hopes. But
here, and together, we reach within.
As a community, we begin again. And
from the pieces we will build something new.
There is work that only you can do. We
wait for you.

 

HYMN  #331 Life is the Greatest Gift of All  

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES
The Best Christmas Ever Story by Rev. Orlanda R Brugnola


It was December. I was in a new school in a new place and there were new teachers and new classmates. And we were living in a new house too. Also there was no snow in Florida.  That was a lot of new things at once. I didn’t like it. At least I had my bicycle—it was my old bicycle so it wasn’t new.

December used to be a good month. It used to have Christmas in it. But not this year. Mama had told me. No Christmas this year. She never said we didn’t have any money, but I noticed there wasn’t much food. Lunch was one slice of bread with a thin slice of mystery meat from a funny blue can. Mama didn’t eat anything that I could see—maybe a piece of fruit—one of the mangoes that fell off the tree in back of the house. No Christmas.

Now Mama loved Christmas. Or maybe you could say she loved Christmas trees. They were a big deal. She would make me go to bed early. Then she would stay up all night long decorating the tree. It was always a big tree—all the way up to the ceiling. She had all the decorations in boxes. Some of them were huge glass balls, all silvery or gold. There were smaller ones, too. And angels and candy canes and little sleds and colored lights and everything you could imagine and more. When I came in on Christmas morning it was so beautiful. Mama slept late, so I didn’t get to open presents right away, but it was OK because I loved that tree just like Mama did.

But this time there wasn’t going to be Christmas. No tree. No decorations. No lights. No little sleds and angels. And no presents. Mama was going to be very upset. Me too. I thought and thought but I couldn’t come up with any ideas.

And then, the week before Christmas, a small tree showed up in homeroom at school. We had it for the week before our school break. Mrs. Clark baked cookies for us to have in homeroom before classes began—she said they would give us energy to study. I don’t know if they did, but sometimes I ate two.

On the last day, before the break, I got an idea—maybe it was those cookies that helped. I waited until everyone went to class and I asked Mrs. Clark what was going to happen to the tree over the break.  “Oh, we’ll throw it out so it won’t shed pine needles all over the floor.” She turned away, but I didn’t leave. “You’re going to be late!” she said. “Umm, Miz Clark,” I said, “could I have the tree at the end of the day?” She was very surprised and I could see she didn’t know what to say. “Please?” I added.  “Alright, yes, you can have it, just come right after your last class.”

I could hardly concentrate all day, cookies or no cookies. At 3:02 I was back at homeroom to collect the tree. Mrs. Clark had taken off the tinsel and the few decorations. The tree was lying across her desk. I picked it up in my arms. It was very scratchy. “Thank you so much!” I said through the branches and found my way through the door to where my bicycle was waiting.

“Now what?” I thought. “How am I going to get this home?” And then it came to me. I could put it across the handlebars and tie it on with the straps of my book bag. It took a couple of tries but I finally got it balanced. I got on the bike and headed home. But it wasn’t so easy to steer. And besides, there was that dog that chased me every morning on the way to school and every afternoon on the way home. If I didn’t pedal fast enough he would bite the hem of my skirt. Then Mama would have to sew it up. That happened a lot.

When I got to the block with the dog I put my head down and pedaled faster than I did even without a Christmas tree on the handlebars. I made it, but by the time I got home I was really out of breath. And then I had another problem. I wanted to surprise Mama. That meant I had to hide the tree for a day. I couldn’t hide it in the house. I couldn’t hide it on the porch. I put it exactly behind the trunk of one of the mango trees so if Mama looked out back she couldn’t see it. I could get it later.

Mama was pretty upset on Christmas Eve. She didn’t eat. She didn’t talk. Papa told her to go to bed early. She did. I told him I had a plan. He was surprised. “I have to bring the tree in, “ I said. “Tree?” he said.  “Yes, it’s outside behind the mango tree.”  We went out back and sure enough the tree was waiting. We brushed off some ants and brought it inside. I found a pail and put water in it and stood the tree up in the pail. It looked a little funny because the tree was so small—nowhere near the ceiling in height. I couldn’t be bothered with that. I had work to do. “Do we have tin foil?” I asked my father. Tin foil is what we called aluminum foil when I was growing up. “Sure.” he said, and brought it out for me. I started tearing it into small squares with the shiny side up. I wadded them up into little balls. Then I started putting them on the tree, squeezing them so they would stay on the tree branches. When I was done I went to get my hair ribbons and used those on the tree, too. It was looking like a Christmas tree, at least a little bit like one. “Go to bed.” Papa said. I was tired so that was easy.

The next morning, Mama was sleeping in. I went in and woke her up. “Mama, Mama, you’ve got to come!” She was sleepy. “Come on!” I said.

She got up and let me lead her into where the tree was waiting for her. “I brought Christmas!” I said. I saw her eyes start to fill up and I thought she was upset. “Mama, I’m sorry, I was trying to help…” She turned around and said to me, “You sure did bring Christmas! It’s the best! It’s the best!”

 

MEDITATION

We Are Enough by Emily DeTar Birt

 

There will be moments when we are overwhelmed,

Over busy, over committed, over and done.

Let us remember that we are enough.

There will be days when we do things that are wrong,

Acts inspired by spite, or pride,

annoyance, or convenience.

Let us remember that we are enough.

There will be days when we don’t line up with our aspirations.

When we feel we will never make it,

Or become the people we want ourselves to be.

Let us remember that we are enough.

There is nothing to prove, no test to pass,

No one to impress, no one to grant final judgment.

There is only the gift of life, the love of community,

And the humble acknowledgement

We cannot ever be perfect.

We cannot grow and live our lives alone.

But we are never alone.

We have everything we need to change the world

And we are always more than enough.

 

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

“What Did I Do to Deserve This?” by Rev. Sara Ascher
 

“You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why…he’s gonna find out who’s naughty and nice…he knows if you been bad or good..” Well, you know the rest. If only I had really listened, if only I had known; the song is true. Santa does know who’s naughty or nice, bad or good.


             I had to have been about nine years old the year that Christmas didn’t come. My brother and I were being pretty awful to each other for weeks. We were arguing and fighting and picking on each other. You know, sibling stuff of pestering each other just to get a rise out of the other. “He’s touching me!” “She’s looking at me!” Mom yelling “Stop it, both of you!” She had warned us that the way we were behaving we didn’t deserve Christmas, but we didn’t actually believe she meant it. So we kept on at each other right down to the wire of Christmas Eve.


            Christmas Eve in my home growing up was when Christmas really arrived. No decorations were put up before then and though carols and TV specials were allowed, we had no lights or wreath or anything. All of it came Christmas Eve. Being a single parent, this was brilliance on my mother’s part, reviving an old German family tradition. We helped with all the decorating, the tree and the lights after church service. This kept us up late, listening to music and drinking eggnog, which meant we were more likely to sleep in late in the morning. Brilliant, I know. But this Christmas Eve, we went to service as usual, went to dinner at Mom’s best friend’s as usual, but when we got home, nothing. No advent calendars, no music, no tree, no wreath, no nothing; straight to bed. We put out our stockings with the hope they’d be full to bursting in the morning. We could maybe get over not having a tree, we could forget about eggnog, but presents, surely they would still come.


            Nope. Bright and early Christmas morning my stocking at the foot of my bed lay flat but for a small bump in the toe. Disappointed, but not yet crushed, I reached in hoping to find the traditional orange, only to pull out a lump of coal. Seriously, nothing but a lump of dirty, gross charcoal sitting in the palm of my little hand. As my brother and I stood in the living room with disbelief and tears in our eyes, mom simply looked at us and said, “I told you if you weren’t better to each other, you didn’t deserve Christmas.”


            Over the next several weeks this year, no matter the winter Holiday our families celebrate, we will be giving and receiving gifts that are offered in part because someone believes we deserve them or we think another is deserving of them. The gifts for those we love are a measure of our love for them and the gifts to those we may work with are a measure of their value to us. Whether they are hand-made or thoughtfully purchased, ordered on-line or discovered by scouring store after store, the gifts we give to others say something of what we think of them, their importance in our lives and essentially how deserving we believe them to be.
            It’s not pretty I know, but it is true. The gift itself may not be a direct symbol of our value of another person, but somewhere in the midst of our decision is the evaluation of whether someone is worthy enough for such a gift or a gift at all. The flip side of this is, of course, that there are those who are not deserving; who are not valuable enough to receive something. And sometimes that someone is us.


            We believe in deserving, whether or not we wish to admit it. Most of us believe we deserve a good home, a reliable vehicle, a decent job, because we’ve done the work to earn those things. We deserve to have a vacation, preferably in some lovely faraway place. We deserve that new jacket – our old one is looking a bit scruffy. We deserve a fancy meal out, ‘cause we’ve cooked for the past twelve days. We deserve that extra piece of chocolate - it’s been a really hard day. We deserve that promotion or raise because we did more than what was asked for and better or faster than hoped for.


            Most of the time however, when we think of these things, when we convince ourselves that we deserve the desired item, what we are really saying is that we want it and we need a justification to have it. We want that cocktail, that piece of pie, the new book, the newer car, the latest techie gadget. We tell ourselves that we are worth these nice things, we are good people and thus should have the evidence of our character around us. Of course, not all of us think this highly of ourselves, but we would like to, so maybe our deserving is strictly reserved for the small things like good coffee or a movie out once in awhile.


            Our society thrives on the idea that some of us deserve and others do not; or more to the point that all of us deserve everything and should run out this minute and buy it all. Yet we do assess whether or not someone else deserves what they have received even if we were never in line for it. I can remember during the first time I was searching to be settled in a congregation about eleven years ago.  When I heard that some of my colleagues were called to certain congregations, my first reaction was not terribly kind. “He doesn’t deserve that congregation,” or “How did she get that church?” sped through my mind more than once. Not very supportive I know, but when the pool of applicants is significant, one can get a bit competitive. We ministers are just as guilty as everyone else in calculating another’s worth in getting something we may want ourselves, we are human after all.


            “I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve,” speaks Bilbo Baggins, a character in JRR Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring at the party he throws upon his departure. I have always loved that quote. Mainly because it takes a few of those listening a minute to understand what he said, which is that he does not know half of them as well as he’d like and likes some of them less than they deserve. Though at first we hear only that he doesn’t like many of his guests, when we pay closer attention he is saying that those he does not like actually deserve to be liked more. It is both a bit of an insult and admission to those he doesn’t like and an admonishment of himself that he has not been very generous with his affection.


            This is the difficulty with deserving. How is it we are to determine the worth of another person or ourselves in the receiving of life’s gifts? Who deserves what? Who does not deserve? How do we measure deserving? What have we done to deserve this? And what precisely are we deserving of? Deserving is an entitlement to something, a reflection of worth and merit. But by what estimation do we measure one’s worth?


            Do we measure one’s worth by how many educational degrees they hold? By how many zeroes are on their tax return? What kind of car they drive or how small their home or if they have a home? Do we measure worth by how kind someone is or how much of their time they give to others? How is it we determine the worthiness of a life?


            We have societal rules that assist us in determining worth. We have laws that govern us and rank those who follow the laws above those who do not. We value hard work and often it is a judge of our worth within a job or school or volunteer setting. By those standards those who are labeled criminal or lazy deserve less than those labeled studious or industrious. There are countless ways in which we consciously and unconsciously ascertain the worthiness of someone and ourselves.


            “I was once at a party,” wrote A. Powell Davies, “where there were a large number of guests – where, for about three quarters of an hour before dinner the good people present were drinking concoctions that are said to stimulate the appetite. I was talking to my hostess when it happened that a lady joined us who told us that she had recently [had a spiritual transformation]…she went on to tell her hostess that in the past she had rather hated her, but that now, in her transformed condition, she loved her with a [spiritual] love. Knowing my hostess, I was apprehensive and wondered whether it would be all right to walk backward in the direction of somebody else! But chivalry prevailed and I remained. There was a quick flush on my hostess’s cheeks, and her eyes were very bright. ‘Well!’ she said to her guest who now loved her with a [spiritual] love, ‘I want you to know that I liked it better as it was before!’


            “There is, of course, “continues Davies, “a forced something that we call love, that is not love at all. What this ‘transformed’ lady had done amounted only to producing in herself a false feeling of superiority to what she really felt toward her hostess, a self-righteous and pious fraud, as proved by the fact that what she told her hostess in an oblique and crafty way was that she, her hostess, was really unlovable, but that nevertheless, she, her guest, was so superior a person that she had recently managed to overlook this unlovableness and, with the aid of religion, feel sweet toward it.


            Much better would have been an approach that helped her to like her hostess: more understanding, more willingness to believe that if she looked she could find something to respect.”


            This is what deserving really represents, a desire to be viewed as worthy of respect and even kindness. We Unitarian Universalists do not believe that you can discover the evidence of one’s character by looking at what one owns, or wears or has achieved or accomplished. The idea of deserving is simply a disguised version of predestination. The idea that you can tell the worth of someone’s soul by the relative quality of their life and living. That those who god favors live blessed and plentiful lives while those whom god does not favor live stricken and bleak existences. We know too many people who have deserved what they have never gotten and other who have gotten more than they deserved.

Many of us know families or individuals who have suffered in ways no human being should have to endure. Good people have lost children in sudden and horrific ways; good-hearted people have borne untold tragedies and pain for seemingly no reason. How do we say “they do not deserve this” yet that someone else might? How can we say that some deserve to suffer while others should not? How do we determine that it is ok for tragedy to touch one life, but not another? We don’t. There are those who have done dreadful things to other people. Those who have broken their own humanity for greed of money or due to lack of respect for all things and they have earned the punishments our societal rules have in place. There may even be some who hold so much hate and anger that it is difficult see their humanity at all, but can we say they deserve to be less human than us? How do we know the heart of another to determine its worthiness? “Many that live deserve death,” says Gandolf another character in JRR Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, “And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? The do not be too eager to deal out…judgement…”


            Our Universalist heritage teaches us that each being is equally sacred, no matter our determination of their apparent worth. No matter their actions, even if they are cruel or even violent, that beyond our necessary human punishments, a moral respect and recognition of their inner dignity as a being is demanded, no matter how difficult. We are also equally worthy of joy and loveliness and the splendor of life.


            The truth of our human living is that suffering touches all lives as does grace and beauty and joy; we Unitarian Universalists believe that all beings hold an innate worth and dignity and thus we are called, we are required to recognize their value and our own. It is either that we all deserve nothing and are lucky to receive what comes to us or that we all deserve something of comfort and friendship and respect and opportunity and love.


            “Now I’m not one for ‘affirmations.’ Saying something doesn’t make it so,” writes Rev. Barbara Merritt, “But recently a dear friend of mine read to me some affecting lines from an unknown author. They went something like this:


            It’s time somebody told you that you are lovely, good and real; that your beauty can make hearts stand still. It’s time somebody told you how much they love and need you, how much your spirit helped set them free, how your eyes shine full of light. It’s time somebody told you.


            [These words] offer all kinds of radical and startling opinions about our place in the divine scheme of things. Messages that…include: it’s time somebody told you that with all your flaws and weaknesses, you are an extraordinary person, well-worth knowing. No one expects you to live without making mistakes or stumbling occasionally. It’s time you looked at your own life with more kindness, gentleness and mercy…It’s time someone told you that you are not on this earth to impress anyone, to dazzle us with you success, to conquer all obstacles with your competence, or to offer one brilliant solution after another. We are happy you are here with the rest of us struggling souls. We are all striving to be as faithful as we can be to the truth that we understand. No more is required.” It is time somebody told you, no matter, who you are, no matter what you have accomplished or never achieved, it is time somebody told you not because you deserve it, or have done anything to earn it, “that you are valued and infinitely worthwhile.”
 

HYMN #118 This Little Light of Mine 

 

BENEDICTION

You Are The Holiday Miracle by Gwen Matthews

 

As December opens up before us, we welcome in the gift of reflection. We turn toward our holiday celebrations and search for common threads of meaning.

We begin with Yule, the winter solstice, and we are invited to explore duality, cycles, and seasons, and to witness the Holly King being overcome by the Oak King. Yule reminds us that we all partake in the miracle of renewal.

Hanukkah, the festival of lights, commemorates a time of miracles when the faith of the Jewish people sustained them to reclaim their holy temple and keep the light of the menorah burning for eight days.

Christmas, the celebration of Jesus' humble birth in a manger, offers us to revisit the miracle of birth and the desire to find saviors to heal the scars of humanity.

Here, in our church, you are just as much a holiday miracle as the turning of the earth, as persistence and dedication to a faith, as the creation of each new life. We see the love you give to others, the space you create to hold one another's joys and sorrows, and the generosity and spirit you entrust to this community.

You are the holiday miracle. This community is one of miracle-makers.