A New Unity Sunday Gathering
We gather together this Easter morning as people of hope
We know that health can follow illness
That joy can follow sorrow
That love can spring forth out of the ruins of hate
We know in our hearts that the deepest darkness can usher in a bright and enduring light
We light this flame for hope
We light this flame for the promise of a more loving and peaceful tomorrow
From “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence” - Martin Luther King, Jr.
We speak of love which is expressed in the Greek word Agape… Agape is not a weak, passive love. It is love in action. Agape is love seeking to preserve and create community. It is insistence on community even when one seeks to break it.
Agape is a willingness to sacrifice in the interest of mutuality. Agape is a willingness to go to any length to restore community. It doesn't stop at the first mile, but goes the second mile to restore community....
Sunrise by Mary Oliver
You can die for it --
an idea, or the world.
People have done so, brilliantly,
Letting their small bodies be bound to the stake,
Creating an unforgettable fury of light.
But this morning,
climbing the familiar hills in the familiar fabric of dawn,
I thought of China, and India, and Europe,
and I thought how the sun blazes for everyone just so joyfully as it rises under the lashes of my own eyes,
and I thought
I am so many!
What is my name?
What is the name of the deep breath I would take over and over for all of us?
Call it whatever you want,
it is happiness,
it is another one of the ways to enter fire.
Message, by Andy Pakula
Easter is a story of hope. It is a story of the possibility that terrible disappointment and enormous suffering can be followed by liberation and joy and promise.
Jesus was arrested, tortured, and then put to death in the most horrible way the Romans had at their disposal - crucifixion. And two days later, Jesus’ tomb was found empty. Jesus had risen from the dead. The power of the Romans had been defeated. Death itself had been defeated.
Easter is the ultimate story of sacrifice - the story of giving everything for the benefit of humankind.
Sacrifice is not something we talk about very much in our culture. It or in this congregation. Sacrifice is perhaps seen has something from the past - something that our modern, advanced civilisation has made unnecessary.
A Pig and a Chicken are walking down the road.
The Chicken says: "Hey Pig, I was thinking we should open a restaurant!"
Pig replies: "Hm, maybe, what would we call it?"
The Chicken responds: "How about 'ham-n-eggs'?"
The Pig thinks for a moment and says: "No thanks. I'd be committed, but you'd only be involved."
Pig decided not to be a martyr for the restaurant - not to make the ultimate sacrifice.
The drawing on the cover of the order of service is Michael Servetus. Servetus made the mistake of denying the Christian doctrine of the trinity. He refused to recant his Unitarian words when he had the chance. He was burned at the stake on the orders of John Calvin.
The photograph is of James Reeb, a Unitarian Universalist minister in the US. In 1965 he put his life on the line by participating in the voting rights movement for African Americans in Selma Alabama in 1965. Reeb was beaten to death by white segregationists.
Reeb and Servetus were peaceful people. Their aims were for greater freedom and their means were non-violent.
There have been many other non-violent heroes who have sacrificed personally for lofty ideals. We admire them, although we certainly don’t want to be like them.
Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Archbishop Oscar Romero, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer are just a few of these. Many more risked their lives but were lucky enough not to lose them.
Today, as always, there are those who sacrifice their lives who we number among our enemies. We were reminded just this week by events in Belgium and in Iraq that there are those who are ready to give their lives in pursuit of a cause using violent and murderous means. They strap explosives to themselves carry them into places filled with innocents and blow themselves up taking as many victims with them as they can.
To them, as well as those we admire, the importance of the goal or value is so great that life itself is not too great a price to pay.
As has often been said, the difference between a freedom-fighter and a terrorist can be in the eye of the beholder. The fact that someone is willing to sacrifice is not, of course, any indication of the benefit their cause might bring.
There have always been people ready to make the ultimate sacrifice for a cause. Sometimes, their sacrifice has changed the world. Sometimes, it went unnoticed. There are no guarantees that a sacrifice will make a difference, which makes it all the more difficult.
Martin Luther King tells us that the kind of love that brings about justice entails a willingness to sacrifice for one another. Indeed, it’s hard to define love in any way that doesn’t include a willingness to give up something for another’s well-being.
This is important. In relationship, in community, and civil society, we are often given the sense that caring should always feel good and be mutually beneficial in the moment - win/win from the start. The truth is that anything worth pursuing requires giving something up - requires sacrifice. This is true whether we are talking about friendship, teamwork, marriage, being together in community, or being a citizen of this world.
Sacrifice is a notion that we need to bring back. It will take sacrifice to make peace. It will take sacrifice to bring about justice. It will take sacrifice to prevent catastrophic climate change.
I am not asking you to put your life on the line for your beliefs or for anyone else. Certainly, I don’t set such an example. I do not take the role of the pig in creating the restaurant of justice. I’m just a chicken - in all senses of the word - and I do my part with chicken-like participation - without porcine commitment.
I hope none of us will ever need to give our lives for a cause. I hope it never comes to that. But sacrifice we do. Every day, we make sacrifices - some small and some large. We call them choices or trade-offs and we may not even notice as we’re making them.
Today, you sacrificed doing something else to be here.
Today, we sacrificed trees in the paper for our handouts.
We sacrificed money to heat this building, to buy coffee and tea, to pay me and our musicians.
In fact, every time any of us spend money we are making a sacrifice - we are sacrificing one thing for another. If you bought a coffee this morning, you sacrificed a few pounds that could have been spent otherwise. So, maybe you sacrificed part of the cost of some clothing or food or some entertainment. Or maybe you sacrificed a bit of savings that you might want someday.
Everything involves choices and sacrifices.
Many people in this congregation are wrestling with how they will spend their futures and especially in their working lives. They have hard choices to make. They can sacrifice certainty for the chance of something more exciting. They can sacrifice more money for more satisfaction. They can sacrifice, more time for more money.
Almost anything we do or don’t do involves a trade-off, a sacrifice of some kind. This is especially important in a culture that seems increasingly to reject the notion of sacrifice.
At least according to the advertisements, we don’t have to sacrifice comfort or beauty or luxury or money or flavour or much else. We can have it if we buy the right product, invest in the right place, read the right book, or get the right help in creating the perfect life.
But every one of these non-sacrifices is a sacrifice.
I don’t want to sacrifice the fun of having new gadgets, but to get them, I’ve sacrificed the time it takes to learn them, the calm I could have had instead of worry about what’s wrong with them and how to fix them when they don’t work, and the money I could have used in any of a million other ways - not least of which is to help people.
Life is full of choices and sacrifices.
Today - this Easter Sunday - as Christians remember a man who sacrificed himself for his ideals and for his people - is also the last day of our three-month focus on social justice.
I have been wrestling with what I myself would sacrifice for justice.
We live in very uncertain times and are especially concerned with twin issues that both arise from conflict occurring in the middle east: terrorism that has been enabled by the unrest and the vast number of people fleeing for safety.
These twin issues cause complex responses in the west. There is compassion for the refugees and there are fears that the refugees will change western culture and could provide a cover for terrorists to enter. And then, as a result of these fears, immigration is strengthening right-wing groups throughout Europe.
There are trade-offs and sacrifices to make. Perhaps your values say to accept all refugees and that strengthening right-wing groups could be disastrous. You may need to sacrifice one value for another, at least temporarily.
And in a week where terrorism has struck again, there is the fear of the terrorists and a resulting willingness to allow government to have more more power and take more extreme measures. And then there is also the fear that this will lead to oppression and limit freedoms for everyone. There is also the very realistic worry that such responses will make the problem that much worse - after all, the best way to confirm the terrorists’ claims that the west hates Muslims is by treating Muslims according to harsher rules than everyone else.
It is trade-off time again. What will we sacrifice? If the trade-off is safety vs freedom? If the trade-off is short-term benefit vs. long-term risk?
When we consider matters of justice, questions of sacrifice are always close at hand.
I have watched with disgust and worry as Donald Trump has become the presumptive Republican candidate for president of the United States. Trump has encouraged violence in his rallies. He has spoken of barring and expelling Muslims from the US. His remaining opponent, Ted Cruz, has gone even farther - talking about patrolling and securing Muslim neighbourhoods.
The words are frighteningly close to those used by the Nazi’s about their eventual victims as they gained power.
I think of Martin Niemöller's powerful poem about those times:
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
What am I willing to sacrifice to protect a Muslim in the US or here? What am I willing to sacrifice to help the poor, the other victims of racism, and anyone else who is persecuted.
And so I leave you with this question - the question that all of us must answer. What are you willing to sacrifice for a better, more just, more peaceful world?
The questions are asked in every age and every place. The answers matter more than we will ever know.