Hunger”

Worship Script 2


 Worship Script (2 of 4)

OPENING WORDS

Today We Celebrate a Dream Awakening by Elizabeth M Strong

 

Today we celebrate a dream awakening.

Today we worship with renewed hope in our hearts.

Today we act on an audacity of hopes and dreams for the future.

Today we begin the hard work for justice, equity and compassion in all human relations,

for today is a day like no other and it is ours to shape with vision and action.

Let us worship together and celebrate a dream awakening.

  

HYMN #349 We Gather Together

 

FIRST READING

“History’s Road”, by Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley and Clyde Grubbs

The road of history is long, full of both hope and disappointment. In times past, there have been wars and rumors of wars, violence and exploitation, hunger and homelessness, and destruction of this earth, your creation.

 We have become a global village, with a growing realization of how fragile this earth is, and how interconnected we are to each other and to all creation.

 We cannot continue to live in the old way. We must make a change, see a new way. A way toward peace with justice and a healthy planet.

 O Great Creative Spirit: You have given a vision of the good, and we yearn for a new way. But where are we to find the courage to begin this work? We know that a different tomorrow is possible, but how can we build it?

 We think of the prophets, women and men, who voiced unpopular opinions, who made personal sacrifices, and sometimes lost their lives, for the sake of justice.

 We think of Isaiah, who called out to let those who are held in captivity go free, to give solace to the poor and homeless. Let us be inspired by all who work to overcome misery, poverty, and exploitation.

 We think of Harriet Tubman, who called out to people of goodwill to join her on an underground railroad, to lift a dehumanized people from the bondage of slavery to the promise of freedom, even when it meant challenging unjust laws. Let us be inspired by those who are outlaws for freedom.

We think of Gandhi, whose belief in "Soul Force"—the witness to Love's Truth—helped to overthrow the oppression of an empire and gave witness to the way of nonviolent action. Let us be inspired to become witnesses for peace.

 We think of Chief Seattle, who reminded us that we belong to the earth, not the earth to us. Let us be inspired by all those who work for the healing of creation, of Mother Earth and all her creatures.

 Who are the prophets who inspire you? They may be well known, or known only to you, offering personal inspiration, courage, and hope.

 May they join a great cloud of witnesses to a new way of life—the way of peace and justice, the way of justice lived according to the way of peace, the beloved community.

 So may it be. Amen.

  

SECOND READING

“To Savor The World or To Save It”, by Richard S. Gilbert

 “It’s hard to know when to respond to the seductiveness of the world and when to respond to its challenge. If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between the desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”

—E.B. White

 

I rise in the morning torn between the desire

To save the world or to savor it—to serve life or to enjoy it;

To savor the sweet taste of my own joy

Or to share the bitter cup of my neighbor;

To celebrate life with exuberant step

Or to struggle for the life of the heavy laden.

What am I to do when the guilt at my bounty

Clouds the sky of my vision;

When the glow which lights my every day

Illumines the hurting world around me?

To savor the world or save it?

God of justice, if such there be,

Take from me the burden of my question.

Let me praise my plenitude without limit;

Let me cast from my eyes all troubled folk!

No, you will not let me be. You will not stop my ears

To the cries of the hurt and the hungry;

You will not close my eyes to the sight of the afflicted.

What is that you say?

To save, one must serve?

To savor, one must save?

 

The one will not stand without the other?

Forgive me—in my preoccupation with myself,

In my concern for my own life

I had forgotten.

Forgive me, God of justice,

Forgive me, and make me whole.

  

HYMN #1023 Building Bridges

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES
Supriya’s Bowl from The Broken Tusk by Uma Krishnaswami (Atlanta, GA: August House Publishers Inc.). Used by permission of the publishers.

 

Hard times starve people's spirits, as well as their bodies.

(Play all instruments.)

So it was once, when the Buddha lived and famine struck the land. The rains failed, and the heat of the sun withered the harvest in the field. All around, the cries of pain and hunger could be heard. (sticks)

 In the midst of this misery, some people (all instruments) grew greedy and selfish. The Buddha's followers came to him, bringing stories of sadness and shame.

 "One merchant (tambourine) in town stabbed another," said one, "and all for a bag of grain."

 "I heard of someone (tambourine) who sold their last goat to buy some flour. On they way home they were attacked by robbers, and the flour was stolen," said another.

 "Saddest of all, Lord Buddha," said a third, "are the stories of children (triangle) dying of hunger on the poor side of town, because the wealthy have hoarded all the grain and milk and sugar."

 "Call all the people together," said the Buddha (drum). "Let us see what we can do to help." (all instruments)

 So the Buddha's followers called a big meeting.

 Hundreds of people came. (all instruments) Rich and poor, well fed and starving—out of respect for the Buddha, they came to hear his words.

 The Buddha (drum) said, "Citizens of this fair land, surely there is enough food in the storehouses of the wealthy to feed everyone. If the rich share what they have in the lean season, then you will all survive to enjoy the benefits of the next good harvest."

The poor and the hungry looked hopeful at the Buddha's words, but the rich people grumbled.

 "My granary is empty," lied one. (tambourine)

 "The poor are lazy. Let them work for me; then they can use the money to buy the food I have stored," said another. (tambourine)

 "There are too many poor people," said a third. "Let them go somewhere else." (tambourine)

 The Buddha sighed (drum) when his eye fell upon the people with hearts of stone. "Is there no one here," he asked finally, "who will take on the job of helping to feed the poor and homeless in these hard times?"

 There was silence. Then a small voice piped up, "I will, Lord Buddha." (finger cymbals)

 Out of the crowd stepped a child, no more than 6 or 7 years old--a merchant's child, dressed in fine silk.

 "My name is Supriya," said the child, "and I have a bowl to fill with food for the hungry. When can I begin?" (finger cymbals)

 The Buddha smiled. (drum) "Small child," he said, "your heart is filled with love, but how will you do this alone?"

 Supriya replied, "Not alone, Lord Buddha, but with your help. I'll take this bowl from house to house and ask for food for the poor. I will not be refused. I know it." (drum and finger cymbals)

 Looking at the child, with earnest face and shining eyes, even the most selfish among those present grew ashamed.

 "I have a little grain in my storehouse," mumbled one. (tambourine)

 "I have some pickled mango from summer's harvest," said another. (tambourine)

 "My father was poor once. I'm ashamed to have forgotten," muttered a third. (tambourine)

 Then Supriya took the bowl, and went every day from house to house in the rich part of town. Wherever Supriya went, little by little, the bowl got filled. (finger cymbals)

 Sometimes an old grandmother would fill it with rice. (tambourine) Sometimes children would give up their sweets for the day. (triangle) Often, others would join Supriya with their bowls and help take the food to the people who needed it. (finger cymbals and tambourine)

And sometimes, it is said, when Supriya was tired of walking, the young child would rest in the shade of the banyan tree. Supriya would awake to find the bowl had magically filled itself.

 "Now," said Supriya, "the hungry will eat, and the people of this town will take care of each other." And so they did.

  

MEDITATION

“I Am Afraid of Nearly Everything” by Anonymous

I am afraid of nearly everything:

of darkness,

hunger,

war,

children mutilated.

 

But most of all, I am afraid of what I might become:

reconciled to injustice,

resigned to fear and despair,

lulled into a life of apathy.

 

Unchain my hope, make me strong.

 

Stretch me towards the impossible, that I may work for what ought to be:

the hungry fed,

the enslaved freed,

the suffering comforted,

the peace accomplished.

  

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

"The Kind of Communion That's Hard to Swallow" AUTHOR: Rev. Greg Ward

For those who are unfamiliar with a hunger banquet, it’s not your regular dinner.  People are invited to gather and eat, like a regular dinner.  But not everyone is served the same things.  In a hunger banquet, a hierarchy is established such that some get more than others.  Just like our society – and our world.  Some will get a lot.  Some will get enough.  And some will get not enough. 

 It was my third year in ministry and I invited 40 members of my congregation – all leaders in the church.  Some were on the board.  Some from the Committee on Ministry or the Long Range Planning Committee.  Some from Social Action.  All were pillars of the community.  

 The dinner was held in the sanctuary – I wanted there to be a spiritual feel to the evening.   And there was.

 I arranged for all invited to be assigned to one of three tables based on some arbitrary characteristic. I chose eye color.  The objective was to make it something people had very little say in – sort of like how we have no say in what family or what class we are born into.  One irony about this criteria was that it ended up that all five couples who attended that night were separated to different tables. 

 The brown-eyed folks got to sit at the first table – the privileged table.  This table was placed on the risers where the choir sat – a little bit above the congregation.  They had a floral arrangement, matching china, polished silver and ruffled napkins.  Two bottles of wine, sparkling cider, crystal pitchers of ice-water, candles and silk table-cloths sprinkled with little daisies.  The table was arranged banquet style, like you’d see at a wedding, where guests sat all on one side looking out over the room.

 The green or hazel eyed folks were placed at the second table below.  It was somewhat less elegant.  Real dishes – although un-matching – went with paper napkins, a pitcher of water and juice. 

 The third table, for the blue eyed folks, was placed around the corner by the entrance to the kitchen next to the big trash cans.  They had paper plates, plastic forks, Dixie cups and water.  Their location was such that the privileged table couldn’t see them.  But the middle table could.  And, interestingly, 10 of the 14 people at the middle table chose to sit facing toward them – with their backs toward the privileged table. 

 To provide an indication that some system was in place, I had asked two of our newest – and relatively unknown members - to stand as ‘guards.’   I asked them to dress, ‘officially.’  One surprised me by coming in combat fatigues, army boots, sunglasses, with a beret and a nightstick.  When the poor table saw him at parade rest, watching over the room, they began referring to him as, ‘the man.’ The guards were given almost no instruction, except to maintain order and civility, which at a friendly invitational dinner might seem unnecessary.  But, after all, we were dealing with hungry Unitarian-Universalists encountering injustice.

 When the dinner was served, of course, the privileged table received the greater care.  They started with tossed salad, fruit salad, bread and butter, carrots and onions, rice and finally, chicken divan. 

 The second table was served after a few minutes and received the green salad, bread, plain carrots, rice and chicken.

 The third table, received only rice.  And there was an extensive delay before that came.   By the time it did arrive, some had grown tired of waiting and sent one among them - who was intimately familiar with the children’s religious education program, on a reconnaissance mission to liberate half a box of Triscuits and a bag of Smarties from the snack cupboard.

 This surprised me a bit.  But, I confess, I really didn’t know what would happen.  I had fully expected that the artificial groups I set up would quickly dissolve, food would be shared between tables almost as quickly as we set it out and the evening would be spent talking about the gross inequity in the world. 

 But I was intrigued to see that this was not what happened.  There was a hesitation.  And what happened during this hesitation was what taught us the most about our goal of ‘oneness’ and the work of justice required to moves us there. 

 The people at the privileged table were split – with two kinds of responses.  The first – and I will clarify that this was said in jest – referred to how appreciative they were that the superior nature of the character had finally been recognized and that it was about time they were given the treatment that was their due.   This half of the table, in a lighthearted way, justified their entitlement and had a little fun being unrepentant. 

 The other half of that same table did not seem so proud.  They did express discomfort upon realizing that, while they were going gourmet, others were going without.  Concern was expressed for spouses or friends at other tables.  Yet there was also a strong sense of confusion about what the guards would do if they challenged the system.  They were reticent to do anything to create a scene.  And that reticence held the status quo in place.  All in all, it reflected some truth about the privileged group in our society: justifying some entitlement while issuing vague discomfort about the state of affairs and slow to take any action to change their position of privilege.

 The second table was, in my mind, the most interesting.  One member of the table reported, matter-of-factly, that he’d seen these things before, knew what we were attempting and considered it, sort of, ‘old news.’  Consequently, the conversation turned toward the ‘matter of fact’ details of one another’s lives and the interesting things that happened that day.  All in all, a fairly true picture of the middle class: generally intelligent people who work hard, are aware of the dynamics and problems of the world around them, but are more preoccupied with their own lives and those of their friends to effect much lasting change systemic conditions of poverty.

 The third table also seemed very adept at capturing the essence of the group they represented.  They were pissed.  They were hungry.  And they minced no words about it being unfair.  And they even went through a few derogatory expletives describing their opinion of social experiments.  One of the members of the table lightheartedly threatened the nearby guard with a plastic utensil.  But they weren’t angry at the guards - who were just doing what they were told.  They also weren’t really upset with the other tables - they were just playing their part in the game.  But they were, without question, pretty unhappy with me.

They came to see me as the instigator.  The maker and the keeper of ‘the system.’  For all intents and purposes, I played the role of God.  A figure to whom the privileged throughout history cited as the source of their good fortune – the privilege they enjoyed was the divine right of kings.  God has always been an ambivalent figure for the middle class – sometimes treated with confusion or indifference.  And God is a figure the poor have often felt promised them more.   And the poor have been dining on empty promises for a long time.

 A prayer was once given to me by a Methodist colleague.  It describes what, I imagine, the poor sometimes feel in their heart. 

 What was it you said, Lord?

Was someone speaking to me?

I was hungry and you formed a Humanities Club, and discussed my hunger. Thank you!

I was imprisoned and you crept quietly to your chapel, and prayed for my release.  Imagine my relief.

I was naked and you in your mind debated the morality of my appearance.

I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health.

I was homeless and you preached to me about the spiritual shelter found within the love of God.

You all seem so holy; so filled with light, hope, and salvation.  But I’m still very hungry, and lonely and cold.

 There are so many who are still hungry, and lonely, and cold.  None among us can deny the tragic inequality in our world.  Unfortunately, pinpointing the ultimate cause behind it isn’t as clear in real life as it seemed to be in our simulation.  It’s not the fault of one group, one philosophy or even one well-intentioned but misguided minister.  If it were, I know that my congregation – being loving and justice minded people - would have done me in a long time ago.  It just isn’t that easy.

 One of the truest statements made during the evening was during the discussion afterward when someone pointed out that the experience that we simulated that evening was too simple.  They pointed out that the roots of all oppression – including racism, sexism as well as classism - are far more complex and entangled in well-meaning endeavors then is ever initially perceived and it is hard for any congregation to know how to do the good they so desperately want to do. 

 Trying to find ‘oneness’ or navigate our way toward justice isn’t always straightforward.  We want to help but we don’t want to upset others in the process.  We want to empower others but we don’t want to take power from those who have earned it.  We want others to have a place at the table but we hope it is not at the expense of our own.  This can lead to paralysis and eventually, despair.

 But beyond despair, beyond the complex, tangled details of cause and effect, beyond the many reasons why it is impractical and improbable to work for change, there is something else: a realization that when any in the world suffer, we all suffer.  As our inner-cities are assaulted with strife, our suburbs are assaulted with fear.  As the poor, the black, the Asian, the Jew, the gay, the disabled and the disenfranchised are denied their due, then we all feel the hunger of living on empty promises.  And none of us – not the rich or the poor – ever get to know what it would be like to live in one world – where bridges are built and peace is possible for all people.

 If the situation in my church had remained at a stalemate of confusion and inactivity we might have all gone home that night in great despair.  We might have demonstrated the reasons why 1% of the world’s population owns 99% of the combined wealth.  We might have justified why prisons are over-represented by the poor and by oppressed minorities who turn to drugs to escape a world that doesn’t seem to care.  We might have accepted the inevitability that guards will always be threatened by plastic utensils because crime is the only hope for the poor.  And we might have lost hope for the kind of communion we all crave a taste for – the kind that says that all differences – all fear - can be bridged by love.  If the situation in my church had remained the way it began I might have lost hope. 

 But I knew my community… and I knew – deep down – they would get indigestion dining on fear and injustice.  I knew, if given time to reflect, they would never underestimate God.  That is why I invited people them: to show how it is possible to overcome paralysis.  And I was not disappointed.

 As I was talking to some of the folks at the privileged table, I began hearing the echoes of rebellion coming from across the room.  Voices from the underprivileged table started singing.  Slowly at first.  Softly…  “We Shall Overcome…”  Some started to join hands or link arms.  Then, the people at the privileged table saw their opportunity.  They rose above their hesitation, elbowed their way past the guards, and carried food across the room.  When the guards feebly attempted to stop them, the middle class quickly surrounded the guards and handcuffed them in debate about Prolitarian morality in postmodern capitalistic systems.   They were quickly overpowered.  The lower class, seeing the privileged people coming toward them with food, unlinked arms, opened their circle and welcomed them into the group.  Everyone began to sing louder.  From that point, it was only a matter of a few minutes before we were all – guards and cooks and people of every class – sitting at the same table discussing what happened and in complete agreement: it was all the minister’s fault. 

 The way out of paralysis came when we heard the voices calling for action – and heard the confusion within our own voice – and realized it was the same voice.  The difference was made when we recognized that all that separated us – authentic or artificial – did not, could not, would not divide us in our common humanity.  The difference was made in recognizing that the good within us is as powerful as the complexity and the confusion of the system around us.

 We will only work for others in their efforts to escape the yoke of bondage and oppression when we see ourselves inextricably linked to them.  When we understand that their story is our story.  Their opportunity is our success.  Standing on the Side of Love is everyone’s reward.  That’s when we SHALL overcome.

 Since that first evening, I’ve helped organize hunger banquets at four different congregations.  On no occasion have we ever ended hunger or oppression.  But I have seen six year olds stuffing rolls in their shirt to deliver them to their parents at the poor table.  And I’ve seen 75 year olds loading up their walkers and cussing out guards on their way to bring dessert to children.  And every single time, I came to know a ‘communion of people’ who never thought about the poor – or the rich – in quite the same way again. 

 Today, I invite us to prepare for a more formal sharing of food.  (2nd Service) I invite us to sing our way out to the front where a truck is waiting to take the food and money donations down to the Richmond Emergency Food Pantry and Berkeley Food and Housing Project.  This is our way to break out of the paralysis that keeps our world divided.  This is our way.

To the Glory of Life

 

HYMN #168 One More Step

 

BENEDICTION
By Darcy Roake

 

There is too much hardship in this world to not find joy,

every day

There is too much injustice in this world to not right the balance,

every day

There is too much pain in this world to not heal,

every day

 

Each of us ministers to a weary world.

Let us go forth now and do that which calls us to make this world

more loving, more compassionate and more filled with the grace of divine presence,

every day

 

Amen.