Truth and Lies”

Worship Script 3


 Worship Script (3 of 4)

Truth like A River

 

OPENING WORDS

by Patrick Murfin, #238 in Lifting Our Voices

We believe --

That many streams join to make a river,

That the way to wisdom lies in an open ear and heart,

That goodness may be pursued for the sake of goodness

And not from fear of punishment,

That knowing and not knowing are part of the same,

And ambiguity is permissible.

  

HYMN #194  Faith Is a Forest

 

FIRST READING

Keshad Chandra Sen, Arranged by John Haynes Holmes, #474 Singing the Living Tradition

 

Unto the church universal, which is the depositary of all ancient wisdom and the school of all modern thought;

Which recognizes in all prophets a harmony, in all scriptures a unity, and through all dispensations a continuity;

 Which abjures all that separates and divides, and always magnifies all the unifies and brings peace;

 Which seeks truth in freedom, justice in love, and individual discipline in social duty;

 And which shall make of all classes, nations, races, one global community;

Unto this church and unto all it’s member, known and unknown throughout the world,

 We pledge the allegiance of our hands and hearts.

  

SECOND READING

“other truths” by Orlanda Brugnola, from Moorings: Moments of Meditation and Prayer


It is often comforting

To distinguish what we believe

From what others believe.

It is one of the ways that we remind ourselves

Of what we stand for.

May we know

The inescapable arrogance of that.

May we seek to temper our hearts

With respect for others

And with a sense of the grandness

Of so many human strivings

Toward what may be called the divine.

May we know ourselves touched

By the truths learned first by others

As well as those which are organized

In our own souls.

May we seek those truths

Which most clearly

And most compassionately

Offer structure to our understanding.

May we encourage all those

Who seek with us or without us.

  

HYMN #193 Our Faith is but a Single Gem

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES
Faith Like a Walking Stick  by Gary Kowalski

How many of you like to go hiking? I have a number of walks nearby that I like. Hunger Mountain, Snake Mountain and others. Or if we don’t want to drive, my wife and I just go down to our local park where in just a few steps you can forget you’re in the city. Sometimes we bring our dog Smokey along and Smokey isn’t as strong or fast as he used to be. But that’s okay because I’m not as young or fast as I used to be either. And Smokey reminds me to slow down.

 A walk in the woods isn’t a race, after all. It’s not all about seeing how fast you can go, or how quickly you can get to the end of the trail. A walk can be like a meditation, a series of moments to be aware of all the sights and sounds along the way. If you’re in too big a hurry, you forget to hear the birds sing and might not see that little mushroom growing under the tree, the one with the yellow cap.

 But even when you take your time, a walk can sometimes be tough going. What if it starts to rain? And what if there’s a wet, soggy, boggy place where the stepping stones are few and far between? Well, in those cases, I’ve found a couple of things that help. First of all, it helps to have a friend or two along, because then even if it starts to pour and the raindrops are trickling down your nose, you can always sing a song together, and it’s hard to feel sorry for yourself when you’re singing an old Beatles song. And for those soggy, boggy places, if you can’t have a friend along, there’s nothing like a walking stick, which helps you keep your balance, and whether you’re walking up hill or down makes you a little steadier on your legs.

 Walking sticks make me think about our faith, Unitarian Universalism, which is a little different from other religions. Because for us, life is like a long walk, or a journey. It starts when we’re little children and just learning about our world, and then grows as we grow. With each step, we’re always gathering more information and gaining more experiences, finding out about ourselves and as we explore our beliefs change. The things we imagine might be true when we’re six years old are different from the dreams we have when we’re sixty. And none of us is just certain where or how the trail ends, or what we’ll find when we finally reach the mountain top. But we know that other people have walked this way before and that gives us the hope and courage to continue on the adventure.

Now just like on a long trail, life sometimes gets a little tough and can even be scary. And that’s why it helps to have friends, and a spiritual community like this one And at times we start to lose our balance and begin to fall down. And then it’s handy to have a walking stick along.

Unitarian Universalism, our religion, is like a walking stick. It’s not a religion that solves all our problems. It’s not a religion that can magically lift us over the muddy places. It’s not a religion that spares us the necessity to dig deep and struggle when there’s a big boulder we have to climb over or other challenges come along. But it is a religion that can help us keep our equilibrium, that helps us keep our feet on the ground, which reminds us when the going gets hard that each of us is strong, each of us is resilient, each of us is capable, however we identify our gender, our ethnicity, our race; whether we’re big or little. And Unitarian Universalism is a faith that encourages each one of us to find and make our own beliefs—not a one-size fits all religion—but one we constantly tool and re-tool as we go.

So this is my personal walking stick. (Show kids my stick.) It even has my initials on it, G.K. But each of you will have the opportunity to make your own stick, just the right size and weight, the right thickness so you can have a firm grip, to help you go wherever you need to go. And as Unitarian Universalists, you too can find and make a religion you can call your own.

  

MEDITATION

“Go Boldly” by Jean M. Olson

 

May you be brave enough to expose

your aching woundedness

and reveal your vulnerability.

 

May you speak your deepest truths,

knowing that they will change as you do.

 

May you sing the music within you,

composing your own melody,

playing your song with all your heart.

 

May you draw, paint, sculpt, and sew,

showing the world your vision.

 

May you write letters, poetry, biography,

slogans, graffiti, the great novel,

laying bare your words to love and hate.

 

May you love even though your heart

breaks again and again.

 

And until the end of your days,

may your life be filled

with possibilities and courage.

  

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

A River or a Rock: The Meaning(s) of Religious Truth, by Rev. Tim Temerson


Part One

 I want to begin this morning with what has to be one of the most frequently heard

statements made about Unitarian Universalism. This statement is offered by some as a

reason to celebrate our faith while others make the exact same statement to point out a

very serious flaw in Unitarian Universalism.

 “In Unitarian Universalism you can believe whatever you want.”

 

 I’m curious, how many here have heard this statement before or perhaps offered

it themselves when trying to describe or explain Unitarian Universalism?

 

 For those who offer these words as a compliment, Unitarian Universalism is all

about individual freedom – the freedom to seek, to explore, to question, and to believe

what your heart and mind tell you is true. And that freedom at the heart of our faith is

best exemplified by Unitarian Universalism’s lack of a creed or single test of faith that

one must accept in order to be a UU.

 

 For those who offer this same statement as a criticism of Unitarian Universalism, I

think it’s fair to say that they view religions like ours as being too individualistic and too

subjective. The absence of a creed that we UUs view as being a positive strength is, in

fact, a glaring weakness because people need to anchor their lives in a some kind of

over-arching certainty and truth about the meaning and purpose of existence.

 

 Now, at this point I could easily launch into one my favorite sermon topics which

can be boiled down to “freedom good, creeds bad.” I’ve preached that sermon many

times before and will undoubtedly do so again.

 

 But I want to do something a little different today. Rather than simply celebrating

our commitment to religious freedom and our rejection of creeds and doctrines, I want

to take some time to explore with you the philosophical and theological roots of our

approach to religion and especially our understanding of religious truth. Too often in

Unitarian Universalism, I think we skip over this step, instead jumping right to “we don’t

like creeds” or “we can believe whatever we want” without ever taking the time to

understand why.

 

 So let’s begin with this whole question of religious truth. What exactly is it and

where does it come from? Is there one truth, many truths, or no truth at all? And why

exactly do we Unitarian Universalists reject creeds? Is it because we simply don’t agree

with the specific content of existing creeds or is it because there is something about

creeds in general that doesn’t fit with our understanding of the nature and meaning of

truth?

 

 As we consider these questions, I want to begin with that story you heard a few

minutes ago. I first encountered it in a class I took in seminary on the history and

development of the Jewish tradition. In that class we learned about the Torah and the

Talmud, about the vast body of Jewish law known as Halacha, and about mystical

traditions like Kabbalah and Hasidism. But if there is one thing that really stood out for

me about the class and that enriched not simply my knowledge of Judaism but also my

understanding of Unitarian Universalism, it is the way in which the Jewish tradition

approaches the search for religious truth and meaning.

 

 And that approach is beautifully captured by that story from the Talmud. In the

story, a legal dispute between two schools of thought has been going on for quite some

time. God eventually resolves the dispute by deciding that while both sides have made

arguments that are true, one side prevails because it has made its arguments with

humility and good will and has listened to and learned from the truths contained in the

arguments made by the other side.

 

 Think for a minute about what the story is telling us about truth. Truth is not

found in just one argument, in just one belief, or on just one side. Rather, it emerges in

the interaction of different ideas and diverse perspectives. God rules on behalf of the

House of Hillel because while the other side only listened to themselves and to their own

ideas, the House of Hillel listened to and learned from the wisdom of the other.

 

 And as I came to learn in that class, this spirit of ongoing and continuous

argument, commentary, listening, and conversation is at the heart of the Jewish

understanding of religious truth. While Judaism recognizes and affirms the sanctity and

sacredness of the Torah, the truth in the text only emerges out of continuous

exploration and interpretation of its meaning. That is why so much of the Jewish

tradition is a vast and voluminous dialogue among different voices and commentators –

a dialogue that both reveals the truth as it is understood at a particular moment in time

and that is always laying the groundwork for future generations to develop new truths

and new ways of understanding God, the world, and ourselves. In Judaism, the search

for the truth and the conversation out of which truth emerges never ends.

 

 And it is this understanding of and approach to religious truth that inspires the title

of today’s sermon – “A River or a Rock.” For those faith traditions rooted in a single

creed, religious truth resembles a rock – solid, unmoving, and unchanging. Truth is like

a piece of property that one faith can claim and own to the exclusion of others. But for

traditions like Judaism and, as I will argue, Unitarian Universalism, religious truth

resembles a river of continuous and ongoing revelation, interpretation, and conversation

– a river that never stops moving and that is always creating great and profound truths

out of the interaction of countless ideas and voices. Religious truth, therefore, can never

be fully or definitively found in just the words of one person, one sacred text, or even

one religion because truth is always emerging, always unfolding, always carrying us

along a marvelous journey of discovery and exploration.

 

Part Two

 In the first part of this morning’s sermon, I distinguished between two approaches

to religious truth – the rock or property model which sees religious truth as being a

single belief or set of beliefs that are eternal and unchanging and that belong exclusively

to only one religion, and a river or pluralistic model that sees religious truth as a moving

and evolving reality that emerges out of the interaction among a wide variety of

influences and ideas, experiences and stories, conversation and dialogue.

 

 It is this understanding of religious truth that informs Unitarian Universalism. From

our beginnings almost 500 years ago during the Protestant Reformation right up to the

present day, Unitarian Universalism has been rooted in an understanding of truth that is

open, continuous, pluralistic, and diverse. We see truth as living in and emerging out of

all things and all people. Religious truth lives in sacred books like the Torah, the Koran,

and the Bhagavad Gita. Religious truth lives in the rhythms, regularities, and processes

of nature and the universe. Religious truth lives in the words and deeds of prophetic and

spiritual leaders like Jesus, Gandhi, and Mother Theresa. Religious truth lives in the

creative imagination – in music, in the visual arts, and in works of literature and poetry.

And religious truth most certainly lives in all of you – in your experiences, your stories,

your joys and your sorrows, your hopes and your dreams. There is no limit, no end, no

boundary or barrier privileging one source of truth over another. In Unitarian

Universalism, truth lives in and is revealed in everything.

 

 I don’t know if many of you are familiar with what is called the Living Tradition of

Unitarian Universalism. The Living Tradition is a list of six sources of religious and

spiritual truth lifted up as being especially important for Unitarian Universalists.

 Of course, this list of sources is not complete or exhaustive. No perfect or all

inclusive list exists or can ever be fully written in Unitarian Universalism. But what

matters most is not how complete or exhaustive our list of sources is or can be. Rather,

what matters most is that the river is always flowing, always moving, always revealing

new sources, new currents, new ideas, new values, and new truths.

 

 And it is this reality of truth as evolving and emerging out of the diversity of life

itself that explains why we Unitarian Universalists do not have a single creed or dogma.

Reality is simply too diverse, too mysterious, too complex, and too dynamic to be

captured by one statement, by one belief, by one text, or even by one religion. Our

problem with creeds isn’t that they are wrong; a creed, in fact, is one more source of

spiritual truth and wisdom. Our problem with creeds is that they are absolute and not

reflective of the dynamism and diversity of creation. With a creed, truth is final and the

conversation is closed. In Unitarian Universalism, truth is never final and the

conversation never ends.

 

 And that leads me back to that statement about Unitarian Universalism being a

religion in which you can believe anything you want. I think our commitment to truth as

an always unfolding and ever-flowing river, to truth as the living product of the

interaction of an infinite number of sources and of an unending conversation has led

some, including many Unitarian Universalists, to conclude that when it comes right down

to it, Unitarian Universalism is so wide open, so inclusive, and so free that we lack

anything resembling shared truth. In Unitarian Universalism, when it comes to truth it is

basically every person for themselves.

 

 Well, I’m here to tell you that nothing could be further from well, the truth. You

see, in addition to sharing with the Jewish tradition an unending commitment to the

search for truth, we also share with Judaism a belief in the existence and authority of a

particular kind of religious truth – truth that emerges not from a single creed but rather

from the agreements we make with one another. You see, in both Judaism and Unitarian

Universalism, truth is covenantal rather than creedal.

 

 When we say that Unitarian Universalism is a covenantal rather than a creedal

faith, it simply means that we UUs journey together guided not by a single creed written

in the distant past but instead by a set of promises and agreements that we make with

each other about what we believe and how we will live. That is essentially what a

covenant is – a set of promises or agreements human beings make with one another. Of

course, covenants, like all agreements, are subject to review and revision. Covenants

change as new ideas, new needs, and new realities emerge. But even though they are

subject to change, covenants, and especially religious covenants, are affirmations of

deep and profound truths – truths that can be just as meaningful and just as important

as any creed.

 

 The truth that lives in our covenants defines and shapes who we are and how we

live as Unitarian Universalists. Our covenants lift up and affirm beliefs and values that

guide us as people of faith. Think for a moment about the most important covenant in

Unitarian Universalism – the covenant that affirms our seven Unitarian Universalist

principles.

 

 These seven principles are a reflection of who we are as people of faith. They

emerged out of a long and inclusive dialogue among Unitarian Universalists about our

most deeply held beliefs and convictions. The Seven Principles are reviewed from time to

time and can be changed. But while the content of these principles will undoubtedly

change in the future, today they serve as an affirmation of our deepest truths and

convictions and as a stirring call to live our lives as a shared journey rooted in those

things we believe and value most - love and freedom, compassion and justice for all

people and for this planet.

 

 So the next time you find yourself having a conversation about religion or what

church you attend, I hope you’ll share something of our approach to and understanding

of religious truth. I know that summing up Unitarian Universalism in a sentence or two

(the so called “elevator speech”) is never easy because we don’t have a creed. But don’t

mistake our lack of a creed for an absence of truth or conviction. We have beliefs, we

have convictions - we have deep and lasting truths. Of course, the truths we affirm

today may someday change and are never carved in stone. But as people of faith, we

find meaning and inspiration in the journey those principles challenge and inspire us to

make – a journey that calls us to listen, to learn, and to grow and that challenges us to

build a world that is free and fair and just not only for ourselves but for the whole

human family. Those are our truths, our principles, our values. May they bring us

meaning and purpose, hope and joy this day and every day.

  

HYMN #1064 Blue Boat Home

 

BENEDICTION
Buddhist words, #679 Singing the Living Tradition

 

Be ye lamps unto yourselves; be your own confidence.

Hold to the truth within yourselves as to the only lamp.