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Reading 1


Last Night As I Was Sleeping
By Antonio Machado

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking out in my heart.

I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart. 

 

Reading 2 

There is a simple practice we can do to cultivate forgiveness. First we acknowledge what we feel-shame, revenge, embarrassment, remorse. Then we forgive ourselves for being human. Then, in the spirit of not wallowing in the pain, we let go and make a fresh start. We don't have to carry the burden with us anymore. We can acknowledge, forgive, and start anew. If we practice this way, little by little we'll learn to abide with the feeling of regret for having hurt ourselves and others. We will also learn self-forgiveness. Eventually, at our own speed, we'll even find our capacity to forgive those who have done us harm. We will discover forgiveness as a natural expression of the open heart, an expression of our basic goodness. This potential is inherent in every moment. Each moment is an opportunity to make a fresh start. 

~Pema Chödrön

 

Sermon 

We meet today at a time that is important to many of the world’s great religious traditions. 

Yesterday was International Talk Like a Pirate Day! 

The month of Ramadan ended yesterday and we are now in the time of celebration called Eid Ul Fitr. The Autumn Equinox is upon us as the hours of day and light equalize – this is a time that has been celebrated for thousands of years. The Celtics called it Mabon and there were many other names for the time of balancing light and dark. 

In Judaism, we have come to the beginning of the new year, Rosh Hashanna. And for Hindus the festival of Navaratri begins later this week. 

The fact that the end of Ramadan comes along with these other holidays is coincidence. Unlike the others, Ramadan moves around the solar calendar and can take place in any part of the year. 

The presence of the others at the same time of year has a strong meaning. The summer is over. A new time is beginning now. If we were still an agricultural society and had been fortunate this year, the summer’s hunger and uncertainty would end with a generous harvest, promising us survival through the cold months to come. 

One month ago, six of you spoke here about how you would make use of the time of Ramadan. I know from talking to many of you who heard them speak that you found what they had to say inspiring and moving. 

Well, I did too. And as your minister, I certainly can’t expect anyone to do what I wouldn’t. And so, I’ve been abstaining from food during the day every day for the past month. I have not been as strict as an observant Muslim would. I drank liquids during the day and was a bit flexible about the definition of dawn and dusk… It has been a really great experience – less so for my wife who didn’t sign on to having her schedule disturbed – but very positive for me nonetheless. 

Among other things, I have a great newfound respect for our Muslim brothers and sisters who commit to a more rigorous regime all that time and still manage to make it to work, be productive, find time for prayer and engage in charitable work and giving. 

At the end of this thirty days, the one thing I feel particularly strongly is new. I feel a sense that I am somehow new and renewed. I am more aware of what I eat and what I drink and when. And that awareness goes beyond food and drink. Life has a greater freshness and clarity to it – a result of the deliberateness with which I conducted myself for those 30 days. 

And with this sense of newness, we come to the new year in Judaism and the new season with the equinox and its festival of Mabon, which thirteen of us celebrated here Friday night. 

As a congregation, we are also considering a new phase as you consider whether to ask a newly credentialed minister – me – to move from being your old student contract minister to be your new called minister. 

We heard two readings this morning. 

Antonio Machado’s poem speaks of a dream. The part that touches me most deeply: 

I dreamt that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.


In our second reading, we heard Buddhist nun Pema Chodron talk about forgiveness. Forgiveness, she says, creates the opportunity for a new start. 

And we consider John Murray. Murray, whose preaching led to a very substantial Universalist denomination in the United States – a movement that eventually merged with the Unitarians there to create the Unitarian Universalist Association. 

Murray was done. Finished. Desperate. His life was a shambles. He had given up religion all together and was off to find a new start in the colonies. In the closest thing to a miracle story in our tradition, he came ashore and stumbled upon a ready-made chapel and learned that the man who built it had been waiting for him for ten years! Fate or God or coincidence guided the winds and ensured that Murray preached that Sunday, in a new start that changed the face of religion in the United States. Not only was Universalism an important movement on its own, but it arguably helped to transform American Christianity – moving it from a stern condemning Calvinism to the more loving view that salvation possible for all. 

So, if you think America is bad now, just imagine it without John Murray! 

In my own life, I feel as though my old failures follow me. No matter how fast I run, they remain right behind me, tormenting me like a tin can tied to a dog’s tail. I imagine that each of you knows that feeling to some extent. That which Machado suggests could become comb and honey, sticks like mud to my conscience and in my heart. 

What if we could wake up new tomorrow? Imagine that you hear your alarm or the chirping of birds and, as you wipe the sleep from your eyes, you slowly notice that you feel a bit odd. What is it? Something is different. The familiar anxiety in the pit of your stomach isn’t there. The dread you usually feel of seeing your boss, or coworker, or neighbour is not tightening your chest today – it’s nowhere to be found. Well, it will come along soon enough, you think to yourself. But it doesn’t. 

You get out of bed. The mess on the counter fails to trigger your ‘I’ve told him a hundred times!’ and ‘why is he so inconsiderate?’ response. Instead, it’s as if it’s the first time you’ve seen crumbs and cutlery on a surface and you cheerfully clear them away, happy to see the clean space that remains. 

You go to work or into the garden or to a café, and there you encounter that terribly awkward person who just yesterday made your stomach churn. The mountain of accumulated suffering is gone. Today, you recognize with a smile, oh, what an awkward fellow! Poor soul. And you move along with a spring in your step. 

What if you could wake up new? What would it take? A change within, certainly. 

It would also take a change from without. 

The most harmful words in the world begin with ‘You always’ or ‘You are.’ They turn every mistake into a pattern and a pattern into a failed, worthless personality. 

Creating our heaven requires giving each other and ourselves the chance to be new every day. It can begin here with us if we can free each other of the burden of past mistakes that we help to keep on bowed and aching shoulders. 

Freeing one another means freeing ourselves from the prisons we have built. 

Freedom. Let us give it and so receive the same. 

Let this be our commitment to one another. 


May it be so.