Advent Reflection 2017

The inbreaking of the holy into our lives is as startling and inconvenient as an angel busting into a young woman’s life and telling her she is to birth the Messiah. Artists have depicted this scene for centuries, imagining the girl and the angel in a variety of poses and attitudes. One of the most haunting, to me, is Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s 1895 version.

Mary looks quite like many of us would under similar circumstances: shocked, even a little appalled. Shrinking back in fear. Who, me?

 

This is the face and demeanor of many of us when we experience an urgent sense of calling that feels too big and too demanding.

The Bible suggests, though, through its many stories of human encounter with the Divine, that to do so would be not human, not fully and believably so, anyway. Here in the flesh is all that we can know. We are not angels ourselves, and when they break into our lives with their demands, we do what we can to take up the calling.

But let’s let Mary have the last word, in case we thought maybe all she managed to do in that moment of holy encounter with Angel Gabriel was to ask some questions and exhibit anxiety. Here is what the gospel author Luke reports Mary to have said. I want us to hear this in light of this past week, in light of what our Congress in this supposedly Christian nation is doing to the poor, the powerless, the vulnerable. Here is what Miriam, a poor Jewish girl who lived under Roman occupation, responded to the angel who told her she had a part to play in world history and in the changing of the social order:

My soul magnifies the Lord
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
Because He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid;
For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed;
Because He who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is His name;
And His mercy is from generation to generation
on those who fear Him.
He has shown might with His arm,
He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and has exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He has sent away empty.
He has given help to Israel, his servant, mindful of His mercy
Even as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity forever.

Mary immediately gets that her soul and the world soul are in a beautiful concord. She understands the nature of ultimate reality to be concerned with mercy, to be more powerful than governments and the elites that support them. She understands the holy to be a force that dispenses justice and equity. She understands God to be a covenanting power that makes of separate individuals a people.

And so does our Unitarian Universalist tradition make these same theological claims.

Mary belongs to us as much as she belongs to any other faith tradition. Her courageous and empowered YES to the profound calling of the holy inbreaking into her life can be our YES, too, no matter how overwhelmed we feel, no matter how initially shocked and dismayed and fearful.  Let us know with Miriam’s confidence that we too are aligned with God’s purposes. We pray for this confidence in the name of Miriam and all her children, and their children’s children – faithful people who respond to God’s inconvenient and demanding call generation unto generation.

Pepper Grinder Or Banquet: Covenantal Love

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November 4, 2017

You know how you get those pile-on months?

Our church has a lot going on over the next few weeks, and it’s all exciting and good but has required a lot of coordination and planning. A LOT. My most sincere gratitude for everyone who said, “Heck yea, I’m excited to support what we’re doing! What can I do?”

A thing I say a lot to myself and to lay people is that in church life, the process is as important as the final “product” or program.

Here’s an example that I think of often:

I remember attending a beautiful worship service in seminary and happening upon one of the worship leaders griping to the other behind the sanctuary after it was over. Something had gone wrong with the logistics or a cue and she was ranting about it. I hadn’t noticed but there she was venting to the pianist, who was nodding sympathetically.

I felt badly, sort of guilty for feeling blessed and ministered to by a worship service that clearly had been a bad process for the person leading it. I thought a lot about how the sausage gets made in church life and the public and more insider aspects of a congregation’s ministry.

What I have learned through the years is that the behind-the-scenes of the church is the church. It’s where the ministry really happens because it’s where the relationships are engaged. The rough sandpaper of community that can rub us raw, but there are also moments of unexpected grace when something you thought was messed up turns out to be perfect. There can be tremendous pressure from so many different hopes and expectations co-existing in one community, but occasionally God’s grace descends and everyone realizes, “Ah, this isn’t about me but about the church, and we’re all in service to the greater mission.” Everyone settles in and breathes in sync, more or less, and things start sliding into place.

Sometimes the ministry of the clergy and the laity is a pepper grinder we go through and sometimes it’s a gourmet meal set before us. The alchemical ingredient that gets us out of the grinder to the banquet is covenantal love.  Covenantal love isn’t an emotion, it’s a commitment. It calls us to remember that we’re a church, not a corporation, and that we are not consumers but pilgrims. Covenantal love is what prompts us to check not only the things that personally interest us in the church but all its programs and ministries because we belong to all of the church, and all of it belongs to us.

Covenantal love is what draws us out of an individualistic orientation and into community, where we consent to be made a people.

In this season of harvest and thanksgiving, may we be drawn more deeply into love, the key ingredient for everything.

In faith, hope and love, Rev. Vicki

 

 

 

“The Headlong Rush”

These are excerpts from my sermon of 10/8/17. It was such a painful week – again – because of the massacre in Las Vegas. So many people told me that they struggle to balance the moral imperative to know and care about the wider world and their emotional need to limit their exposure to suffering. In some cases, their own lives are full of so much pain, they just don’t have the bandwidth to take on more. And then there are some people who feel a kind of compassionate kinship with others who struggle and suffer, as it strengthens their own sense of connectedness with others. We’re all different. My point in this sermon was to say that being present to reality as it is, with all its pain and brokenness, can be a refuge because truth is always redemptive. And there is holiness in facing it together, singing or crying or just being. Please don’t numb out. You are important. – VW

“The Headlong Rush” Rev. Dr. Victoria Weinstein

The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

The horrible carnage in Las Vegas one week ago has us stumbling around again, trying to find a foundation for our sense of cohesion, sanity, meaning. Of course we are screaming about gun control, continuing to fight about this besetting American sin and obsession that has claimed so many victims. My sermon about gun control – and I don’t mean to be flippant – is that we should bloody well have some!

Why look so hard for Stephen Paddock’s motive when, in the end, he was able to assemble his arsenal and do what he did with easily available arms, ammunition and an easily-available appliance that converted his weapons to semi-automatic killing machines? The debates rage on, and we can hardly believe that this still – and evermore – needs debating at all.

We grieve for the dead, whose names and stories are now appearing in the newspaper, as it has taken a full week of research to compile all of that information. They were schoolteachers, , secretaries, construction workers, a musician, a young mother of four, all gone missing, torn away, bleeding, from life. At least one man died shielding his wife’s body.

Rev. Kathleen McTigue wrote the opening words you heard a few minutes ago. I’ve said these words a lot but this week they kept re-playing in my head :

We come together this morning to remind one another
To rest for a moment on the forming edge of our lives,
To resist the headlong tumble into the next moment,
Until we claim for ourselves
Awareness and gratitude,
Taking the time to look into one another’s faces
And see there communion: the reflection of our own eyes.

The idea that there is a kind of Holy Communion in each other’s eyes when we really see each other, and see our own lives reflected there – has special poignance when I think of these lives so suddenly stolen away, shot down in the (also) holy communion of enjoying music together.

These communal spaces of joy, celebration, recreation – they are so important to protect. Schools, churches, festivals, parks – wherever humans gather, we are in communion. These shootings are a desecration of holy communion of shared spaces and shared experiences, which are so crucial to our ability to bond outside of our own small circles of family and acquaintance.

Where is your rock and your refuge?
This question is as central to our well-being as any, as we are daily shocked and assaulted by upsetting revelations close to home and abroad, and, as I said last week, as we are being trained in callousness by leaders who benefit from conflict among the common folk.

As the Psalmist says, “God, you are my rock and my refuge,” Buddhist practitioners say, “I take refuge in the Buddha, in the dharma (the teachings) and the sangha (the community).” This doesn’t mean to hide in, or to withdraw from within – it means to be AWAKE within the community, AWAKE within the Holy, awake and mindful within the community. Although it is tempting to withdraw, to hide, to take refuge in a bottle of wine or a smoking a joint every night after work, numbing out to hours of gaming or binge-watching Netflix series — when we lose ourselves in those forms of refuge, those are hours our lives we can’t get back. Those hours can become sacrifices we make to the forces of chaos and destruction.

Be aware of how much of your own lives you are giving to those forces. Are you partaking mindfully, with a sense of appreciation, or are they being stolen from you, time given in a kind of stupor of pain and distress? Is there a way you can be present to your own pain and distress – perhaps with some support? Even our feelings of pain – because they are comprised of equal parts truth, honesty and love – can be a place of refuge. Truth is an always-solid foundation upon which we can rest.

I urge you, dearly beloved, not to lose faith even during the moments when you feel that you may lose heart. Take refuge in the reality that there is a greater creative force working than the force of humanity. Take refuge in the beauty of the natural world which we are still daily blessed to see and feel. Take refuge in the reality that love is still a renewable energy source that we may use and renew daily to animate our work and our relationships and our reverence. Take refuge in the 7 Principles of Unitarian Universalism, our dharma teaching, and take refuge in the community… where we look into each other’s eyes and see there Communion, the shared experience of the human struggle.

Meditation for Today

Just Breathe

Prayer for Centering & Quietness