Worship Script (4 of 4)

  

OPENING WORDS

When we find ourselves filled with doubt,

Let us remember this hour.

When we find ourselves fearful,

We’ll remember this hour.

When we don’t know where to go, or what to do,

We’ll remember this hour.

This hour is not magical or against the laws of nature.

But it is charged with beauty, with the power of transforming love,

And with all that we need

To be the people this world has been hungering for.

Let us take from this time courage and passion and a hunger for justice.

And, our hearts standing open, let us worship together.

 

HYMN 123 Spirit of Life

 

FIRST READING

The sacrifice which causes sorrow to the doer of the sacrifice is no sacrifice. Real sacrifice lightens the mind of the doer and gives him a sense of peace and joy. The Buddha gave up the pleasures of life because they had become painful to him.       

Mahatma Gandhi

 

SECOND READING

“I recognized that Christianity had taught me that sacrifice is the way of life. I forgot the neighbor who raped me, but I could see that when theology presents Jesus' death as God's sacrifice of his beloved child for the sake of the world, it teaches that the highest love is sacrifice. To make sacrifice or to be sacrificed is virtuous and redemptive.

But what if this is not true? What if nothing, or very little, is saved? What if the consequence of sacrifice is simply pain, the diminishment of life, fragmentation of the soul, abasement, shame? What if the severing of life is merely destructive of life and is not the path of love, courage, trust, and faith? What if the performance of sacrifice is a ritual in which some human beings bear loss and others are protected from accountability or moral expectations?” 
― Rebecca Ann Parker

 

HYMN 83 Winds Be Still

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES

A nurse from a hospital in England once told this story. As it happened, there was a little girl in the hospital who was very sick with a rare disease. Her brother, who was five years old, had miraculously survived the disease and developed the antibodies that meant that a transfusion of his blood could possibly restore his sister to health. The doctor explained the situation to the little boy, who listened seriously, and agreed to the transfusion. They hooked him up. As he lay there, watching the blood leave his arm and go into the little clear plastic tube, his sister tried to entertain him with smiles and funny faces. But he didn’t respond. After a while, he looked up from the tube to the nurse who was attending him, and asked her a question.  He said, “What will it feel like when all the blood has gone out of me, and I die?”  He had not understood what was happening.  He didn’t know that a blood transfusion only takes some blood; he thought he was giving all of his blood to his sister. But he was willing to do it. Of course, he was very relieved to find out that he’d be perfectly fine. But the story is shared around the world as a tale of sacrifice, especially from one so young. And maybe it makes us wonder for whom in our lives would we be willing to give our own.

 

MEDITATION

Spirit of Compassion

Dwelling within,

Awaken now, and fill us with tender care,

For not only those we are certain we love,

But those for whom love is more difficult.

Let us learn to see these difficult ones as our teachers,

And to see the challenges before us as a moment to learn.

Let us learn all of this in the name of love,

And in the hope of a world brought to justice.

Amen.

 

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.

 

SERMON

Always Faithful

by Rev. Jan Christian, Atascadero, CA

I have learned about faithfulness and sacrifice as a result of a very strange journey I have been on since I inadvertently found some of the men who were in Vietnam with my older brother, 2nd Lt. Robert M. Christian Jr., “Bobby” to me, who was killed on April 11, 1969.

My son, Luke Christian, did an internet search for his own name and turned up a webpage where some of my brother’s Marine brothers paid tribute to him. That was two and a half years ago, and during that time I have met with many of those men and even attended their reunions

After my brother’s death in Vietnam, I saw him as a victim more than anything else. My brother joined because he received a draft notice after he graduated from college. He wrote a poem questioning war shortly before his death. The Marine Corps took a gentle young man who was taught to think critically and taught “Thou Shall Not Kill” in church and turned him into a killer. It’s hard for me to even speak that sentence, but, of course, that is what young Marines are trained to do. The Marine Corps part of his life was not something I wanted to dwell on and so, for many years, I did not.

The Marine Corps motto is Semper Fidelis. That translates as “Always Faithful.” Many of the guys end their e-mail messages with “Semper Fi” or “S/F” and I often end mine with “Always Faithful.” We are all faithful, but to what or to whom? When this journey began, I would have said that my faithfulness was quite different from Marine Corps faithfulness. I would have said theirs is a blind faithfulness and that mine is a questioning faithfulness. I would have spoken about the differences in how we view doubt and ambiguity. But what I have learned has both surprised and humbled me.

Marines have a commitment to leave no body behind. For these men, it meant that they would risk death to haul a body out of a rice paddy. My mom used to say, “Do not spend money on me when I’m dead. Wherever I die, dig a hole under me.” I would have also taken this to mean that I shouldn’t risk my life to haul her body out of a rice paddy.

In one conversation with a Marine, I said, “I can’t imagine that my brother would have wanted someone else to risk their life to retrieve his body. I would hate to think that others might have died to do that.” He looked at me like he didn’t know where to start, because I just didn’t get it. He was right, but now I get it. Everything hinges on what we are willing to do for one another. Our willingness to sacrifice ourselves to protect one another is everything. We are all in this together. We are all we have. We are the saviors we’ve been waiting for.

The greatest sin is to put your own safety above the safety of others. And the higher your rank, the greater your position of privilege, the greater the sin. When we put our own safety first, we are lost and so is everyone else. There is no such thing as individual salvation. We are lost or saved together. When we know that others will put our safety before theirs, all things become possible.

There is another part of “leave no body behind” that illuminates Marine faithfulness. You are part of something greater. It began before you and it will go on after you. You enter into a stream of history and you will be remembered. You are part of a living tradition. Your memory and your sacrifice will not be in vain. Your Marine brothers will continue to carry you with them, whatever the cost.

And my brother’s Marine brothers have continued to carry him and others who made the ultimate sacrifice. While still in the midst of war, these boys and young men contacted family members of killed and wounded brothers. They sent their own family members to visit the sick and wounded. They came home and named sons after fallen brothers. One son is named Robert Christian Ager. They made pilgrimages to The Wall just to touch a name. This last September, one of the men drove 2,400 miles to attend the memorial service of the man whose face he first saw when he woke up after losing his left arm in a firefight. Whenever they gather for Company or Battalion reunions, they hold memorial services.

Another part of Marine faithfulness is that the right thing is not always the easy thing. You do it anyway. Let’s say, for example, that the sister of a Marine calls you out of the blue to ask you about a day that you have relived many times. By that, I do not mean you have remembered it, but that you have relived it. You were the Company Commander that day. When you think of that day, you are filled with regret and guilt and it is as if you are back in that place and time. The sister doesn’t know that you have never even talked about Vietnam to your wife, who you met right after you got back from Vietnam. What do you do? You sit down with her.

You ask for a piece of paper and you draw a map and you touch it several times before you can bring yourself to say, “They said, ‘Let’s put a company in there and see if it can survive.’” You look over at your wife who is hearing this for the first time. Her eyes are wide and full of tears. You tell the sister that you called her mother when you got back to San Francisco. It is like you have the phone in your hand again. You hear the mother’s voice, “My boy…. What happened?”

We need one another. Others are in need of us. We owe others a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid; it can only be honored. Doing the right thing often requires sacrifice. It is not always easy. We do it anyway. I can sadly say that the United States Marine Corps did a better job of teaching my brother those lessons than the religion of his childhood.

It is easy to say of Marine faithfulness: “Well, that sort of thing requires an enemy. It requires not questioning authority. It requires brainwashing people. You have to get them young.” At least it has been easy when I have said these things. It’s easy for me to denigrate sacrifice based on what the sacrifice is for and to even lull myself into believing that sacrifice and extremism of some sort seem to always go together. I have often trivialized what people are willing to do for their faith because I have not respected what they put their faith in or the ways in which others take advantage of that faithfulness.

I find that, in the name of liberal religion, we often trivialize sacrifice. In ways both subtle and obvious, we give the impression that sacrifice is for people who can’t think for themselves, less independent-minded sorts. Liberal religion often smacks of the old commercial which tells us “Have it your way.” Life is a buffet and you get to choose. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it. You even get to complain about what other people are eating or what is on the buffet table or how it was served. I have often heard liberal religious folks brag about how little their faith requires. Many of us don’t even want to use the word faith or faithfulness, let alone sacrifice.

We are not sure we even like “clear expectations.” Some of the most heated, emotional discussions in the congregation I serve have been about what we can or should expect of members. Some are concerned that expectations might be seen as fostering exclusivity. There is concern that we might “turn people off.” We are reluctant to ask anyone for anything that they may not want to give or be able to give. This is especially true when it comes to financial support. In some religious traditions, it is assumed that people will tithe by giving 10% of their income. If everyone tithed in the congregation I serve, we would have about an extra $900,000 dollars a year to bend the arc of the universe toward justice.

I think liberal religion can and should stimulate me to ask: What am I living for? What am I willing to die for? What am I willing to sacrifice for? What am I willing to put above my own comfort? To whom or what do I owe a debt of gratitude that can never really be repaid but only honored? What does a life of gratitude look like? What would it mean to be faithful to what I say I believe?

I have used the word sacrifice the way it is typically used, meaning “to give something up.” But when we look at the root meanings of the word, we find that it is not about “giving something up” but about “making sacred.” We might question what people are making sacred through their actions, but do we really question the act of making sacred, of finding something worthy of our faithfulness?

I think war is evil. It is indicative of massive human failure. If we aren’t going to sacrifice for war, we’d better start sacrificing for peace and for justice. The answer is not less sacrifice; it is more sacrifice. If sacrifice and faithfulness are only for others, then we need to be prepared to live by someone else’s faith or with the ramifications of their faithfulness. Each of us has cause to live a life of gratitude for all we have been given. We are called to work for justice and to bind up the broken. Imagine what it would look like if we, too, could say that we are “Always Faithful” to our highest ideals.  

 

HYMN 139 Wonders Still the World Shall Witness

 

BENEDICTION
Go with courage,

Go with grace,

Go with wonder,

Go with compassion,

For all this world holds,

Go into it, this day,

In peace.