Worship Script (2 of 4)
Come, stragglers and whiners!
Come, half-hearted complainers!
Come, people whose lives are such a mess you don’t even want to talk about it!
Come, people who are wondering how it all ended up quite like this!
This is a gathering of works in progress,
Of people who aren’t perfect,
Of those who are still on the journey.
So, let us journey together,
Our good hearts laid open,
Our questions still alive,
And our passion for the dreams we still hold
HYMN #126 Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
FIRST READING “Do Not Be Ashamed” by Wendell Berry
You will be walking some night
in the comfortable dark of your yard
and suddenly a great light will shine
round about you, and behind you
will be a wall you never saw before.
It will be clear to you suddenly
that you were about to escape,
and that you are guilty: you misread
the complex instructions, you are not
a member, you lost your card
or never had one. And you will know
that they have been there all along,
their eyes on your letters and books,
their hands in your pockets,
their ears wired to your bed.
Though you have done nothing shameful,
they will want you to be ashamed.
They will want you to kneel and weep
and say you should have been like them.
And once you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness.
They will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach. Be ready.
When their light has picked you out
and their questions are asked, say to them:
"I am not ashamed." A sure horizon
will come around you. The heron will begin
his evening flight from the hilltop.
SECOND READING “Praise the Rain” by Joy Harjo
Praise the rain, the seagull dive
The curl of plant, the raven talk—
Praise the hurt, the house slack
The stand of trees, the dignity—
Praise the dark, the moon cradle
The sky fall, the bear sleep—
Praise the mist, the warrior name
The earth eclipse, the fired leap—
Praise the backwards, upward sky
The baby cry, the spirit food-—
Praise canoe, the fish rush
The hole for frog, the upside-down—
Praise the day, the cloud cup
The mind flat, forget it all—
Praise crazy. Praise sad.
Praise the path on which we're led.
Praise the roads on earth and water.
Praise the eater and the eaten.
Praise beginnings; praise the end.
Praise the song and praise the singer.
Praise the rain; it brings more rain.
Praise the rain; it brings more rain.
HYMN #128 For All That Is Our Life
STORY FOR ALL AGES
From A Lamp in Every Corner (Boston: Skinner House, 2004).
On a day not so very long ago, in a place not so very far away, a grass seed lay waiting. All through the cold, dark days of winter the seed waited, covered by a blanket of earth. In the spring, when the air was warmed by the sun and the land was watered by the rain, the seed began to grow. It grew roots deep into the earth. It grew a delicate pale green shoot up into the air. As the days went by, the shoot grew into a firm stalk, which waved in the hot summer breeze. It grew bright green leaves that opened to the sunshine, and then grew darker green as more days went by.
It grew and grew and grew, until the seed was a tall stem of grass and was ready to make seeds of its own. In the fall, when the nights turned cool and the leaves on the trees flamed red and orange and gold, the grass plant knew it would soon be dying, and so it set free its seeds. They traveled on the wind, above field and stream and hill. Some of them slowly settled to the ground in a meadow, where they lay waiting, covered by a blanket of earth. And it was good.
Now in that place not so very far away, a small field mouse was looking for food. Winter was coming, and the mouse was hungry. He went here and he went there, sniffing his way through the meadow, ears perked, eyes open, whiskers quivering, careful and cautious always, for there are many creatures that will eat a mouse. And as he sniffed and nibbled and then sniffed some more, he found a few of those grass seeds that lay covered by the blanket of earth. So he dug them up—scritch scratch!—and he ate them. And it was good.
Now in that place not so very far away, a snake was hunting. Winter was coming, and she was hungry. She went here and she went there, gliding through the faded fallen leaves from the trees, and tasting the air with flickerings of her forked tongue. She tasted the scent of mouse, and followed the scent to the meadow. After a while, she found him. So she caught him—quick, snap!—in her jaws, and she ate him. And it was good.
Now in the sky, high above that place not so very far away, a hawk was searching. Winter was coming, and the hawk was hungry. He went here and he went there, soaring on the wind with outstretched wings, looking down to the earth far below. And at the edge of the meadow, he saw the snake gliding through the faded fallen leaves. So he folded his wings and he plummeted, straight down to the ground, and he caught that snake—snatch, catch!—in his fiercely curved claws, and he ate her. And it was good.
The days went by in that place no so very far away. The sun no longer warmed the air. Instead of rain, snow fell. The last of the leaves fell from the trees. The grass froze, and died. Winter had come.
The hawk soared on outstretched wings, lifted high by the winter winds, hunting. But he was an old hawk. His wings did not beat so strongly as they used to. His eyes did not see so clearly. His hunts did not go well. One day, he plummeted to earth for the last time, and he died. And it was good.
The body of the hawk lay on the ground all winter long, covered by snow. When spring came, the sun warmed the air, and the rain watered the land. Flies buzzed in the air. Ants scurried over the ground. Spring was here, and they were hungry. The ants and the flies found the body of the hawk. The flies laid their eggs in it, and the eggs hatched into maggots. The days went by, and the body of the hawk slowly disappeared, the flesh and feathers eaten by ants and maggots, the bones chewed on by small animals, and whatever was left provided food for bacteria and mold. In just a few weeks, the body of the hawk had completely melted back into the earth. And it was good.
Now in the earth where the hawk had melted, a seed lay waiting. As spring turned into summer, and as the sun warmed the air and the rain watered the land, the seed began to grow. It shot a pale shoot up into the air. It pushed roots deep into the earth, which was made up of the body of the hawk, who had eaten the snake, who had eaten the mouse, who had eaten the seeds. And it was good.
So remember, in that place not so very far away, and in all the places all around, there is sun and there is rain. There are seeds and mice and snakes and hawks. There are ants and maggots and bacteria and mold. There are crocodiles and humans and plankton and daffodils and mushrooms. They all eat from each other. They all live, and they all die. And it is all good.
Holy One, source of creation, from whom we receive breath,
We give thanks for the abundance and even excess of this life.
We give thanks for the nourishment we receive from the hours.
We give thanks for the challenges that remain in our lives.
We seek, in our gratitude, to find purpose and place
Within all creation, so that we can play our part
In bringing about even more life, and even more love,
As an offering from our lives to every life that is and will be.
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 that they 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.
In Praise of Weeds Sermon
Anti-Oppression Immigration By Peter Friedrichs
Pity the poor dandelion. It is, in many ways, nature’s perfect plant. With a tap root that grows more than a foot long, it can survive in climates of scorching heat and bitter cold. Its tender, young greens make a tasty addition to any salad, or they can be boiled like fiddleheads or as a tea infusion. The dandelion’s leaves contain more beta-carotene than carrots and more iron than spinach. Its blossoms, when properly fermented, perhaps with a bit of orange or lemon, make a sweet white wine. That tap root contains medicinal properties, and can be beneficial to both the liver and the kidneys as both a diuretic and blood cleanser. It can also be dried, roasted and ground as a coffee substitute. The flower’s white, milky sap can be used to alleviate bee stings and to remove calluses and moles. And then there is the dandelion’s ingenious method of reproduction. That beautiful yellow bloom is actually a composite of hundreds of tiny blossoms that mature into the familiar white globe of seeds. Unlike most other seeds, dandelion seeds can germinate without a period of dormancy, and the plant is self- pollinating. Each plant contains hundreds of parachute-like seeds that, to the delight of toddlers everywhere, who pluck and blow them apart, can be carried effortlessly on the wind for miles and miles. Yes, the dandelion is perhaps nature’s perfect plant.
Yet, plunk a dandelion down in the middle of a manicured Main Line lawn and it is treated like a terrorist. Armies of lawn care professionals are dispatched with chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction to eradicate this menace. It is, after all,
a weed. Americans spend more than a billion dollars a year on more than 100 million pounds of herbicides, pesticides and other lawn-care chemicals in their attempts to rid their yards of these and other pesky plants.
Let’s look at another insidious invader. Several years ago, as I was making my twice- weekly drive between Boston and Portland, I noticed a beautiful flower blooming along the wet, marshy swales beside the highway. It was tall and feathery with brilliant purple blossoms. This flower, the purple loosestrife, was a source of beauty and joy for me as I traveled the well-worn roads day in and day out. How the loosestrife made it to American shores from its native Europe is uncertain, although some speculate that it was a secret stowaway in the sand and soil that some early immigrant ships used for ballast and then dumped overboard upon their arrival in the New World. It was also valued in Europe for its medicinal properties, and it was likely brought over intentionally as well. By the early 1800’s loosestrife was so abundant in the wetlands and along the shores of New England that some botanists listed it as a native species. Gardeners on both sides of the Atlantic have cultivated loosestrife for centuries, for its beauty as a border planting, for its homeopathic properties and for its support of the honey bee population. The purple loosestrife, like the dandelion, is a miracle of nature. It enjoys an extended flowering season from early June through September, and a mature plant may contain as many as thirty flowering stems that will produce between two and three million seeds each year.
But despite its beauty and utility, the purple loosestrife is, like a common criminal, named on the “most wanted” list of invasive plants of many state governments. It is a weed of the worst variety, an alien invader of our nation’s wetlands that threatens to choke out the natural diversity that supports wildlife and indigenous species of flora and fauna.
I’ll ask you to indulge me as I describe to you one more plant that I find fascinating, the pachysandra terminalis. It’s a plant that I grew up with in New York, but that doesn’t flourish in Maine where I spent the last 23 years. Upon my arrival in Pennsylvania, the common pachysandra greeted me like a long-lost friend. In the heavily-wooded Borough of Swarthmore, it is the preferred ground cover plant, where great carpets spread across shady lots. One gardening website refers to pachysandra as “America’s favorite ground cover, second only to asphalt.” Pachysandra is an import from Asia that thrives in moist, shady areas, spreading slowly through creeping shoots. It is strictly an ornamental plant, with no known medicinal or nutritious qualities. As I was weeding a bed of pachysandra earlier this summer, pulling vines and plants of suspicious origins that were poking their heads up from the groundcover, there occurred to me a certain irony. Here I was, weeding among a bed of what is, essentially, another weed.
What, then, makes a weed? Is a weed a weed just because we call it that? Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Saint Ralph” to we Unitarian Universalists, once said that a weed is simply a plant whose virtues we haven’t yet discovered. But I don’t think that’s quite right. Long ago we discovered the virtues of the dandelion and the loosestrife, yet they are a public menace. And the pachysandra, with no particular virtue other than its persistence in growing low and slow in shady areas, is spared this label. In his
book Second Nature, author and gardener Michael Pollan describes the strict hierarchy of plants, where the top spaces are occupied by what he calls the “hypercivilized hybrids” like roses, and the bottom tier is infested with the weeds, which he calls “the plant world’s proletariat, furiously reproducing and threatening to usurp the position of their more refined horticultural betters.” Weediness, he tells us, is determined by several factors, including how highly hybridized a plant is (the more refined and cultured, the better), the ease or difficulty of growing it (the hearty and easily adaptable larkspur is more “weedy” than, say, a fragile, delicate orchid), and, finally, its color. (White, of course, is at the top.) Pollan goes on to tell us that there are two primary schools of thought when it comes to weeds. The first holds that “a weed is any plant in the wrong place” and the other defines a weed to be “any aggressive plant that competes successfully against cultivated plants.” “The metaphysical problem of weeds,” he writes, “is not unlike the metaphysical problem of evil: Is it an abiding property of the universe, or an invention of humanity?” The purple loosestrife that I enjoyed driving up and down Route 95 for years was, to my eye, a joy. But then my friend told me that it was a terribly invasive weed, and my perception of the plant was forever changed. Was the loosestrife a weed before we made it so?
Any gardener will tell you that your vegetable crop will be stifled and eventually overcome if you don’t dispose of the plants that you didn’t plant there. Sedge and kudzu and bamboo will invariably crowd out tomatoes and peas and beans, just as loosestrife has overtaken the cattails of New England marshlands. No matter how we might equate weeds with wilderness and nature, whether we are backyard gardeners or farmers of the Great Plains, as cultivators of the land we are called to discriminate between the plants we want and those we don’t. We make these value judgments when we plant pachysandra and pull up pigweed. As Michael Pollan writes, “weeding is the process by which we make informed choices in nature, discriminate between the good and bad, apply our intelligence and sweat to the earth.” And so, depending on our intended outcomes, the picture of the world that we wish to create, we may praise or curse the plants that erupt from the soil beneath our feet.
When I offered up the topic of this morning’s sermon last June, I had in mind a light- hearted look at weeds, at the lengths we go to get rid of them, and at how weeds are what we make of them. As I’ve considered and encountered weeds over the weeks since, I have, however, become increasingly troubled and uneasy. For as the crops of our country’s farmlands have ripened and, in some cases, shriveled on the vine, I hear the language of weeds being used in our nation’s debate about the “problem” of illegal immigration. Like so much loosestrife, illegal aliens from Mexico, Central and South America and Asia are flooding our Edenic homeland, straining our public resources, crowding our cities and taking our jobs. We, the precious flowers of our highly hybridized civilization, are under siege from these uncultured invaders. “Aliens” we call them, “Illegals.” Labels that, like the term “weed” implies that they are a scourge, a menace, to be eradicated. The Bush administration recently announced a crack-down on people living in the United States illegally, as well as on the companies that employ them.
Let me say at the outset that I am in favor of controlling our borders and stemming the flow of people entering our country through illicit means. As a nation we have a right to protect ourselves from terrorists and criminals and others who may wish us harm. But the American Dream is an attractive one to many living in poverty just across our borders. The dream of having a steady job, of being able to feed your family, of educating your children, of living in a decent home without fear of being the victim of violent crime. For all its problems and all its limitations, our society has achieved a standard of living unmatched in human history, and many who see it from afar long to share in our bounty. And just as every one of us here today is a child of immigrants -- parents, grandparents, great-grandparents who wanted to share in this dream -- so are there today unborn children whose parents long to provide to them what ours provided to us. Many of those parents are risking their lives to get it. Crossing the ocean in shipping containers and crossing our southern borders in 18-wheelers. Hiking for miles across dangerous deserts in blazing heat and chilling cold. Floating across the Caribbean Sea on rafts made of old tires and plastic sheeting.
When we label these people – these mothers and fathers and grandparents and children – as “illegal aliens” we dehumanize them. And once they are dehumanized it is easy to talk about them as things, as problems, as so much kudzu to be beaten back at the border, lest our garden be overtaken and all that we have cultivated destroyed.
Never mind that our apple crops are rotting on the trees and our grapes are wilting on the vines this summer, because farmers can’t find workers to bring in their crops. What has been lost in the debate over our immigration situation is the fact that each of the individuals who live in our country illegally is a human being, a person with a family and a story just like us. We couch the debate in terms of “us” and “them” when, in fact, there is no “them.” There is only “us.” And as every religion the world has ever known has told us, do unto others as you would have done unto you. Or, in this case, as you would have had done unto your parents, or grandparents, or great-grandparents when they arrived on these shores.
In an effort to bring a human face to the so-called “immigration problem,” let me tell you the story of Jorge. Jorge is not his real name, but he is a real person. And he is the friend of one of my closest friends. Jorge lives in San Francisco. He is a carpenter, a term that doesn’t accurately reflect his talent. He is an artist with wood. He builds cabinetry and moldings and other finish woodwork for fancy homes of business executives and governmental officials. Jorge has lived in the United States for 14 years, having made the treacherous passage from Mexico on foot across the desert of Arizona. Jorge has a 7 year-old son who was born in this country and is thereby a US citizen. With a false driver’s license and social security number Jorge rents an apartment, owns a car, works. He even pays taxes to the government that is in constant pursuit of him. Jorge lives in fear daily. As he drives from his apartment to the job site, he worries that he’ll be stopped for a minor traffic infraction, or simply because of his brown skin, and that a California State Trooper will discover that his license is fake. He knows that, if that happens, he’ll be handcuffed and thrown in jail, and that, within a few short weeks he will be sent back to Mexico where he has no family, no job and no hope. And his son will grow up fatherless.
Ask Jorge why he doesn’t try to legalize his status here and he’ll tell you that to do that under current law it would mean voluntarily returning to Mexico, submitting an application to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (for a fee, of course) and waiting somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 or 7 years for a decision which could, of course, be a rejection.
Our politicians, particularly the conservative ones, are afraid of the word “amnesty” because they don’t want to appear soft on crime. They also fear that granting amnesty to those in our country illegally will open the floodgates to more illegal immigrants. I believe that we need a two-prong approach that considers and treats as human beings, with the respect they are due, those who wish to stay here or those who wish to come here and work. First, it is high time to welcome the Jorges of our society into our garden as full partners in the American Dream. Amnesty for those who have lived and worked diligently within our borders for fifteen, ten, or even five years, who have abided by our laws and who want nothing more than to share in this nation’s bounty (and to add to it) is long overdue. Amnesty is not a reward for their illegal entry, but an acknowledgment of their industriousness and honesty. Second, we must revise our immigration policy to make it easier for U.S. companies to employ foreign workers. We should provide them with incentives to legally invite guest workers here rather than to charge them exorbitant fees and to threaten them with fines for noncompliance. We should encourage legal, seasonal employment of people from overseas and thereby discourage illegal entry. Legal entry into our country, properly monitored, followed by a return to the worker’s home country at the end of his or her term will enable those living in poverty overseas to support themselves and their families while discouraging illegal entry at the risk of deportation. Offered the choice of legal, seasonal employment or long-term illegal status, most foreign workers will choose the legal route.
There are countless Jorge’s in this country right now, likely millions. Men and women who, although they have entered the country illegally, have been and continue to be productive members of our society. They may not be highly hybridized flowers in the top tiers of the garden’s hierarchy (though some of them could be, I’m sure, given the chance). But nor are they weeds to be uprooted and eradicated from the rich soil of this nation. Like a rototiller run amok, this nation’s immigration policy fails to discriminate between the flowers that bloom and the dangerous, insidious actors. In describing the process by which we cultivate our gardens, Michael Pollan tells us that “weeding is the process by which we make informed choices in nature, discriminate between the good and bad, apply our intelligence and sweat to the earth.” We owe at least this same level of care, discrimination and intelligence to the human beings who sit at the heart of the immigration debate.
HYMN #139 Wonders Still the World Shall Witness
Our time in this service is ending,
But our service to the wider world
Has only just begun.
Let us take from this hour the strength
Of praise and thanksgiving
And bring it as a light out into a world
That is hungry for it.
Go in peace.