“Evil”

Worship Script 1


Evil Words and Good Potential

Worship Script (1 of 4)

 

OPENING WORDS

By Orlanda Brugnola


As we move through life finding ourselves,

Always newly wise and newly foolish

We ask that our mistakes be small not hurtful

We ask that as we gain experience

We do not forget our innocence,

For they are both part of the whole

 

HYMN #1 May Nothing Evil Cross This Door

FIRST READING

Excerpts of “Hell and Salvation” from the Social Implications of Universalism, by Clarence Skinner [Language has been updated to better be gender inclusive].

The very corner-stones of the old struc­ture of theology were caprice and injus­tice. A human being might be condemned to hell by a wrathful God, for punishment of an act which was not in itself immoral, and hope for that individual’s salvation might be eternally lost. On the other hand, a person might commit a most hein­ous crime, involving the worst possible sin against the moral nature, yet escape from hell and punishment by accepting the vi­carious atonement of Christ. Hell never was pictured in the old theology as an in­evitable consequence of breaking the in­nate laws of being. There were always trapdoors out of which the one who was wise could climb at the last moment. Pun­ishment and reward were not in the exact and inescapable relation of cause and ef­fect. Hell and salvation were both arbi­trary and non-human in origin.

 The Liberal theology has successfully driven these nightmares from the minds of enlightened [people].

But Universalism has not tried to abol­ish the scheme of suffering and punish­ment from life. It has not done away with moral accountability. The idea of hell and heaven is just as potent in the modern theology as in the old. They are essential elements in religion. Universalism has not abolished the idea of hell.

It has humanized and socialized it. It has established human misery as the direct effect or consequence of human action. The existence of such a hell can be demon­strated, the sting of its lash can be felt, the horror of it can be seen. It is the most real, the most in­evitable fact conceivable. To believe that every individual will suffer the just consequences of sin is the hardest, most disciplinary faith known.

All this is hell—social hell—[people] suffer­ing from instituted customs and practices for which society is responsible, which can be eradicated out of the world.


SECOND READING
A quote from Daisaku Ikeda

“Goodness” can be defined as that which moves us in the direction of harmonious coexistence, empathy and solidarity with others. The nature of evil, on the other hand, is to divide: people from people, humanity from the rest of nature. -
 

HYMN #320  The Pen is Greater

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES
The Good Samaritan, by Christopher Bruce, from “A Bucketful of Dreams: Contemporary Parables for All Ages”

One day a merchant was traveling on a road when he was attacked by bandits. The bandits were so cruel that they beat the merchant, stole everything he had, and left him for dead lying on the side of the road. The merchant was so badly hurt he couldn’t move or speak at all, and he could barely see through his swollen black eyes.

A long time passed, then down the road came a priest, a man of God. That priest looked good. He was wearing a fancy new robe and he was nice and clean from a recent bath. When the merchant saw the priest coming, he became excited. “Surely this priest will help me,” he thought. But when the priest saw the man lying on the side of the road, he just kept on walking and passed him right by.

After a time, the merchant saw another man coming down the road. This man was a temple helper and he looked good. He was well groomed and had a nice new haircut. He wore beautiful colorful robes and had a winning smile. Once again the merchant became hopeful. “Surely this man will help me,” he thought. But when the temple helper saw the merchant lying on the side of the road, he just kept on walking and passed him right by.

A very long time passed, and the merchant began to lose hope. “I will die here on the side of the road,” he thought. But then he saw another man walking down the road with a donkey. This man did not look too good. He was dirty and his clothes had holes in them. He did not look like he had shaved or cut his hair in a long, long time.

“This man will not help me,” thought the merchant. “He is from Samaria and Samaritans hate my people.” But when the man saw the merchant lying on the side of the road, he stopped. He was moved with compassion. The Samaritan washed and bandaged the merchant’s wounds. He put the merchant onto the back of his donkey, carried him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day, as the Samaritan prepared to leave, he gave the innkeeper money and said, “Please take care of this man. When I return I will pay you any more money that you may spend.”

From his window in the inn, the merchant could see the Samaritan walking off into the distance. He was too weak to call out or even to speak his thanks. But ever since that time the merchant has known deep in his heart that there is a big difference between looking good and being good.

 

MEDITATION
Besieged, from Moorings: Moments of Meditation and Prayer by Orlanda Brugnola


We are besieged round about

By principalities and powers

Though we are armed with truth,

With integrity,

With faith,

Even though we speak peace

We cannot prevail

Except if our actions be in their right time,

However incomprehensible

The greater pattern may be.

We hope and sk

That we may speak and act without fear,

And that we pray for ourselves

And to each other

That we may do all that we ought to do.
 

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

Evil Words by Meg Riley, senior minister, Church of the Larger Fellowship

I’ve attended ceremonies to welcome new babies into a number of religious communities. In some Christian baptisms, I have been stunned to hear priests and ministers talk about exorcising evil from the babies through baptism, through bringing Christ into the baby and thus casting demons out. The first time it happened, at a Catholic baptism, I was aghast, and wanted to grab the precious baby from the priest and say, “He didn’t do it!”

I looked around at the large extended family of this beloved baby to see if they were as disturbed as I was. They were talking to one another, smiling, pretty much ignoring the priest’s words. Now, I’ll say that until these words were spoken, I had been suffering from profound Catholic ritual envy. The oil, the holy water, the words and music had an ancient feel that stirred me deeply. I felt as if I was standing in thousands of years of birth and death and life.


And then, the demons were mentioned. Evil was in that baby, and could be cast out only by Jesus Christ. My envy dissolved in a heartbeat. For the extended family, evidently, words were not central to the occasion, as they were for me. The relationships, the ritual, the beauty of the tradition—that is what the family were there for. None of them seemed at all troubled by demons and exorcism.


We Unitarian Universalist are a very word-centered people, for better and for worse. So my attention to the words was well-honed. But UUs do have rituals of our own. At our baby dedications, we use water and flowers to proclaim the blessedness of this new life, to dedicate the baby to the community and the community to the baby, to bring the baby into a sacred covenant of the gathered people to care for one another. There is nothing said about evil, or what a person must do to avoid being evil. Much is said about the potential of the baby to be a blessing in the world.


Holding up the potential to be a blessing in the world is not the same thing as being a blessing in the world, though. The old saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” could be about any of us, despite our potential. We don’t intend to be oppressive, or exclusive, and yet we often are.


In most UU congregations, the chosen flowers for baby dedications are roses, from which the thorns have been carefully removed. This is explained to the community with words about our wish to prevent the young child from the pain that thorns inflict. Every parent wants to spare their children unnecessary pain. And of course no one wants to create bloody babies!
But I wonder what ritual we might develop to include naming the fact that, along with all of its blessings, the world is full of pain and struggle, oppression and greed. And that being a blessing means fighting forces that are large, and real, and aimed against our individual and collective humanity.


There are many days when I read about inhumane practices of individuals, or legislative bodies, or police unions, or courts, or school administrations, or prisons, and no word but evil comes to my mind. We humans are born completely vulnerable, dependent upon one another. Betraying one another’s vulnerability, attacking those who are most undefended, is foundational to how I understand evil.


But evil is not rare or unusual; indeed, it is commonplace. So commonplace that most of us participate in systems that diminish collective humanity every day, whether by wearing clothes made in sweatshops, eating foods grown in conditions that diminish life for agricultural workers, using petroleum and water and other scarce resources without restraint, employing unearned privileges without awareness. It’s hard to get self-righteous if we’re honest about our impact on the world.


Somehow, our invitation to all people of all ages who choose to live in covenant that supports Unitarian Universalist principles and values must include ways to get back to right relationship when we have betrayed another’s humanity, when we have betrayed our own values. As adults, we need to leave the thorns on the roses, and acknowledge the sharp pain that’s right there with the beauty. We need practices of forgiveness and of accountability. We need rituals to acknowledge our complicity in evil systems, and to find ways to heal together.


All of us need to be healed from our own greed, from our lack of trust in our own espoused values, and we can only do this through lived experience of something different from the culture at large. Our rituals cannot be about words, though we need good words: they need to be grounded in relationships and beauty and the timelessness of the ancestors and the not-yet-born and by making brave and risky choices.  


I believe that together, even still, we can collectively hold the evil that has been created and continues to be created by people, including us. We won’t cast demons out of one another, but we can leverage our collective power to tilt the world just a little bit more towards one that is reflective of our deepest longings.
 

HYMN #124  Be That Guide

 

BENEDICTION

By Nancy Wood

 

Hold on to what is good

Even if it is

A handful of earth.

 

Hold onto what you believe

Even if it is

A tree which stands by itself.

 

Hold on to what you must do

Even if it is

A long way from here

 

Hold onto my hand even when

I have gone away from you.