Worship Script 1
Resistance as Disobedience
Worship Script (1 of 4)
By David C. Pohl
We come to this time and this place:
To rediscover the wondrous gift of free religious community;
To renew our faith in the holiness, goodness, and beauty of life;
To reaffirm the way of the open mind and full heart;
To rekindle the flame of memory and hope; and
To reclaim the vision of an earth made fair, with all her people one.
HYMN #34 Though I May Speak With Bravest Fire
Matthew 2:1-12 (New Revised Standard Version)
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Excerpts from “Moral Monday Rally 1” in Forward Together: A Moral Message for the Nation by William J. Barber II
It’s one of the most well-known essentials of our federal Constitution that we have a right to bear witness. And so we here today are going to witness with love and justice because anything less would be an indictment upon our faith, an indictment upon whom we are called to be as human beings of conscience. Today we will rady a document together. We want to make it clear why we are here today in this curc. We are North Carolinians who today choose nonviolent civil disobedience in the face of an avalanche of extremist policies that threaten health care, that threaten education, that threaten the poor, that threaten creation of jobs, that threaten voting rights.
Micah 6:8 (NRSV) asks us our public policy question: What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? It is in the spirit of openness to the prophets question that we gather here as people of faith and citizens of North Carolina.
In the words of Diane Thornton: "Give yourself to giving, and you'll find that the things that matter are returning." The things that matter cannot return unless we actively bring them back, unless we pull them out of the darkness of no return, and shine the light of possibility on them. Possibilities that are as diverse as we are, inside and outside of these four walls.
To be a bearer of light is to hold in the highest esteem, the building of relationships. As Rumi wrote, "This being human is a guest house, every morning a new arrival." Each day we have an opportunity to build a new relationship where previously none existed.
A bearer of light is not concerned with what they can take, but with what they can give to any situation, even one that might rile them, or aspire to throw them off course.
A bearer of light while it can have a spiritual significance as what Thomas has stated in his gospel, it does not have to. It can be a commitment one makes to lighten an experience that might seem heavy, to share an insight even when it might scare you to do so, to act the clown when everyone around you is being so serious.
It can be a commitment to be that ray of sun that emerges at the blink of an eye.
HYMN #142 Let There Be Light
STORY FOR ALL AGES
The Truth Crushed Down By Christopher Buice
Storytelling Tip: This story ends with a quote by the Unitarian journalist William Cullen Bryant, “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.”
Once upon a time there was a very greedy king who had lots and lots of gold. But he wanted even more gold, so he decided he would order his army to attack the neighboring kingdom and steal all their gold.
The king called all his soldiers into his courtyard and told them his plan. The soldiers agreed to obey his orders. They drew their swords and lifted their shields and marched off to battle.
But the soldiers were not gone from the castle long before they began returning to the courtyard. Not one of the soldiers was carrying a sword or a shield.
“What happened!” screamed the king. “I told you to go fight a battle!”
“We were on our way, Sire,” said one of the men, “when we came across an apple tree and the tree spoke to us. It said:
‘All men are brothers and all women are sisters.
All the people of the earth are one family.
Be wise and lay down your swords and shields and study war no more.’
“It seemed to us that the tree made sense so that is what we did.”
The king was furious and he vowed to get rid of the tree that had ruined his plans. He waited until midnight and then he crept out of the castle, walking across the field until he came to the apple tree. The king took out his axe and chopped down the tree. But he was still so mad that he stomped on the fallen tree until it was crushed down into the earth. Then the king walked back to his castle with a smile on his face.
The next day the king called his soldiers to the courtyard. He gave them new swords and new shields and told them to obey his orders and go attack the neighboring kingdom. The soldiers were afraid of the king so they did as they were told.
But the soldiers were not gone long before they started returning without their swords and shields. This made the king furious.
“I told you to go fight a battle!” screamed the king.
“We were on our way,” said one of the soldiers, “but we came to the spot where we saw the apple tree yesterday. You wouldn’t believe it but there are twenty apple trees there today. And they were all saying the same thing:
‘All men are brothers and all women are sisters.
All the people of the earth are one family.
Be wise and lay down your swords and shields and study war no more.’
“And the trees made sense to us so that is what we did.”
The king was red with anger. “Those blasted trees!” he thought. “Tonight I will sneak out and chop down every last one.” And that is what he did. But he was still so mad after chopping down all the trees that he jumped up and down on them until they were crushed into the earth.
The next day the king called all the soldiers to the courtyard and gave them new swords and new shields and ordered them once again to attack the neighboring kingdom. The soldiers were afraid of the king so they obeyed him. But the soldiers had not been gone long when they began returning without their swords and shields.
“I told you to go to battle!” screamed the king. “Why did you disobey me!”
“Well,” said one of the soldiers, “you wouldn’t believe it but in the same place where there were twenty apple trees yesterday there is now an entire forest of trees and they are all saying—”
The king didn’t wait to hear the rest. He knew what those trees were saying. He ran out of the castle and there he saw a forest of trees that stretched as far as the eye could see.
The king began to cry and scream because he knew there was no way he could chop down so many trees.
“Can it be!” he screamed, “that a powerful king like myself can be stopped by a few trees!”
“Are you asking me?” came a voice from behind him.
Turning around the king saw an old man leaning against the castle walls. His hair and beard were long and grey and his clothes were well worn.
“Well,” said the king after a moment, “Do you have an answer? If so, please tell me.”
“Well,” said the old man and then he paused for a moment. “It seems to me that you are a very powerful king.”
“Yes, indeed I am!” agreed the king.
“And, since you are so powerful, you can take any tree that offends you and chop it into little pieces and crush it into the ground.”
“You are quite right there,” replied the king.
“But,” said the beggar, “the apple tree spoke the truth. All men are brothers, all women are sisters, and all the people of the earth are one family. You may be a powerful king, but there is no king on earth more powerful than the truth, for truth crushed to the earth will rise again.”
Spirit of the Moment by Ton Vincent
Here in this holy place, [..] let us give ourselves to the Spirit of the moment and find the Sacred Oneness which binds all life together.
Knowing that much is beyond our ability to change, life calls us still to act in compassion and fairness wherever the opportunity presents itself.
Let us seize the strength of the ritual; remember, renew, and relive the taste of the hard-fought struggles in the human search for justice.
We are hungry for the lessons of the past and for guidance toward the promise of the future. May we be open to all that expands our awareness, and welcome all to enter our embrace.
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.
Disobeying Herod by Thom Belote, minister, The Community Church of Chapel Hill, Unitarian Universalist, North Carolina
While we tend to think of the Three Wise Men as part of the Christmas story, Epiphany—a holiday honoring the visitation of the Magi—is celebrated in January. Which might not be the only reason that contemplating this story could be timely. It is worth noting that in both the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke the story of the birth of Jesus is situated within a particular political context. In Luke, what causes Mary and Joseph to set out and travel towards Bethlehem is that the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, has called for a registration.
In Matthew, the political context is an awkward and fraught moment in foreign relations. Foreign dignitaries have arrived in Judea, gone to King Herod, and told him: We’re here to meet a newborn child, a child who is the rightful King of this land and this people, for we’ve read the signs in the heavens and those signs announce that your reign, Herod, is illegitimate. We want to meet the King. It’s not you. (I’m embellishing a little bit here.)
And Herod responds, deviously: You know, I’d like to meet him, too.
Historians’ opinions of Herod as King are polarized, though few deny that he was a tyrant and a brutal despot. His critics describe him as a madman, an evil genius, someone who would do whatever it takes, no matter how immoral, to pursue his own limitless ambition. Herod was intolerant of dissent. He deployed secret police to spy on the population. He banned protests. He used his power to brutally persecute opponents.
In Matthew, wise men come from the East, following the star. They’re identified as magi. We might imagine them as Zoroastrian priests, learned scholars, astrologers. Though the text in Matthew is silent, later tradition would embellish these descriptions, with different branches of Christianity telling the story in different ways. There were three wise men, or twelve. They’re given different names in different sects of Christianity. They are said to have all come from Persia; or from Persia, India, and Babylonia; or from Europe, Asia, and Africa; or even from China. They are imagined as sorcerers, wizards, kings, saints.
But, in the Gospel story, they come from the East. They visit Herod. With profound insecurity and devious cruelty, Herod enlists the wise men in reporting the identity of the child. The wise men journey to Bethlehem, visit the child, pay him homage, and present him with gifts. And then, they are warned in a dream not to return to Herod. So they disobey. They disobey Herod and take a different route home.
The text tells this part with one short sentence, “And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.” But, you can easily imagine all kinds of questions:
What were the risks to disobeying Herod?
Did the wise men put their own freedom on the line?
Did they risk their own lives?
And, most importantly, how did they find the courage, conscience, conviction, and commitment to say, “No. We are not going to do this. We will disobey”?
People who study authoritarian regimes write about what is necessary for people to resist and to disobey. For instance, researcher and consultant Sarah Kendzior offers the following advice for those facing life under authoritarianism:
Write down what you value, what standards you hold for yourself and for others. Write about your dreams for the future and your hopes for your children. Write about the struggle of your ancestors and how the hardship they overcame shaped the person you are today.
Write your biography, write down your memories… Write a list of things you would never do. Write a list of things you would never believe.
Never lose sight of who you are and what you value. If you find yourself doing something that feels questionable or wrong a few months or years from now, find that essay you wrote on who you are and read it. Ask if that version of yourself would have done the same thing. And if the answer is no? Don’t do it.
Perhaps it is as simple as this and as difficult as this. Perhaps what gave the wise men, the magi, the strength and courage to take that other road, to disobey and not return to Herod—and not reveal the identity of the child born in Bethlehem—was simply that they each possessed a strong moral compass. They knew who they were, what they valued, what they could never do and what they could never believe. They knew this deeply.
Another scholar of authoritarianism, Yale history professor Tom Snyder, offers this advice about obedience:
Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked… Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.
For Professor Snyder disobedience is a conscious choice that we need to remember we always have.
As I think about the wise men, another source of strength and resilience comes to mind that may have been helpful in causing them to resist, to disobey Herod. Remember, traditions tell us that the wise men came from Persia, India, and Babylon; or from Europe, Asia, and Africa. The wise men are often depicted as coming from different cultures, as having different skin tones, different religions. And maybe you’d think with their different ethnicities and different languages that one of them would cave in, one of them would falter and say, “If I take the road back that Herod told me to take, I could get on his good side. I could earn all his favor for myself.”
But, that’s not what happens. The three of them walk together, take the other road together. Today we’d use the term solidarity. We’d say they practiced solidarity with one another. I think of Rev. William Barber, so active in North Carolina and beyond. I’m pretty sure if William Barber met the three magi he’d tell them that they are the beginning of a fusion movement!
For a fusion movement to work we can’t sell one another out. We can’t be in it only for ourselves, our own wellbeing, our own rights, our own survival. We have to realize that our fates, our freedoms, our lives are tied together; none of us can be free until and unless all of us are free.
I recently went to Raleigh, NC, for a Justice and Unity rally. We had more than 1,000 people gathered in a park to protest a Ku Klux Klan march that was happening in one of the distant corners of our state. We proclaimed our resistance to the march, our resistance to white supremacy, bigotry, and hate in all its forms. The speakers at this rally were mostly people of color, mostly young people. They included immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ folk. It was inspiring.
These gatherings are important. I’m convinced that we are being called to show up, that we are all being called to show up in numbers one hundred times as large. One thousand times as large. Being there and hearing those speakers reminded me of all the people to whom I am accountable, the people for whom I would disobey Herod. The people with whom I would disobey Herod.
Remember those words of Tom Snyder. “Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked.” Obedience, consent, going along are like oil lubricating the gears. Disobedience and dissent grind the gears down.
Like the wise men of the ancient story, like the wise ones through all history, let us pledge to disobey. Inspired by the words of Edna St. Vincent Millay, let us pledge that,
[We] will not hold the bridle
while [Death] clinches the girth.
And [Death] may mount by himself:
[We] will not give him a leg up.
HYMN #157 Step by Step the Longest March
By Audre Lorde
We end with these words from Audre Lorde:
“When I dare to be powerful - to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”
May we ever do the same. Amen.