Easter: The Heart’s Offering
UUCP ● April 5, 2015
Opening Words by Denise D. Tracy (Adapted)
The Easter wind whispers across the mountains, prairies and lakes.
It beckons our deepest longings to break free.
The hunger of our hearts echoes across the ages,
For all living creatures have heard the rushing call to wholeness.
Today, we listen for this quiet call to new life.
We hear our names. We sense our purpose. The wind calls us to fulfillment and affirmation — of self — of life — of Yes!
Today is a day to roll back the stones
From the dark caverns in our hearts…
To emerge, blinking, into the light of a new day.
Today is a day to shed old skin, to break open husks,
To send forth vulnerable, delicate new tendrils of becoming.
Today is a day to rise, reborn, renewed, refreshed,
To set forth with courage on the path that emerges beneath our feet.
Today is a day to have faith in the “yes”-
the “yes” that resounds through all living things,
pulling all of creation toward joy and gratitude and growth and hope.
As you breathe, pull that cool spring air deep inside.
Let it wash over all of the places in you that are emerging, becoming, reaching for the “yes,”
Those places that are ready for Resurrection.
In the silence, let us listen for the “Alleluia,”
From “Love, Death and Easter” in Love and Death by F. Forrest Church, pp. 71-72
Reminding us that the world doesn’t owe us a living—rather it is we who owe the world a living, our very own—Jesus’s good news celebrates the gift of sacrificial love. Take his most challenging injunction. By loving our enemy, we give away our entitlement to revenge; we sacrifice our pride. We also sacrifice our sense of entitlement and all the pleasures that go with vengefulness, bitterness and hate. Forgiveness, too, requires sacrifice. We must sacrifice self righteousness, our preoccupation with having been wronged, and the advantage of holding another in our debt. Finally, and most important, we must sacrifice our control over everything that lies beyond our power—including our control over others, other events, and over the future. Ultimately the courage to be requires the courage to let go. Fear accompanies us all the way to the grave, but we needn’t hold its hand or accept its cold comfort. The word sacrifice literally means ‘to render sacred.’
Psalmsong (Barbara Pescan)
Ruah, breath of God,
Spirit of creation
Hear me speaking to you.
We know the price of resurrection—
Let us be willing, even knowing
That death comes first, to be reborn.
Rebirth is not only golden grace and glory,
It is labor and that first searing breath.
We know what exists in this world
And we choose to live
For this world is flowers and tears
It is blood and song.
Give us the courage to be resurrected
Oh, Spirit, kindle in us the passion
To live with our whole self—
Eyes open, ears hearing, nerve endings electric,
Tasting and seeing and breathing
The fire of the indwelling spirit.
Ruah, breath of God, breath us alive,
With fear and hope and
Let us arise and
Let us arise rejoicing!
Forrest Church is extremely quotable, and one of his taglines is:
The purpose of life is to live in such a way that our lives will prove worth dying for.
The consumer culture tries to convince us that things are worth dying for. “Oh, that dress! It’s to die for!” “The flourless chocolate cake…to die for…” But I don’t know anybody who would actually put their life on the line for a dress or a dessert.
The military-industrial complex works hard to convince people that this country is worth dying for. Or perhaps it’s these abstract concepts that our country supposedly stands for: freedom, justice, liberty. I’m reminded, though, of what my brother said after returning from his tour of duty in Iraq- “I knew when I signed my name that I was putting my life on the line. What I didn’t realize was that I’d wind up risking my life for the sake of Halliburton.” This is why his vocation- his calling in life- is to work for peace. He’s the executive director of a peace non-profit.
But today, of course, is Easter. The life- and the death- we are reflecting on took place more than 2000 years ago. Easter is an interesting holiday for Unitarian Universalists. We tend not to believe in a literal resurrection. We’ve also rejected the idea of substitutionary atonement- that idea that Jesus had to die in order for God to forgive our sins. So what, exactly, are we celebrating today? We affirm and celebrate the fact that Jesus lived a life worth dying for. We know this because of the legacy of love he left behind.
If we understand Jesus’ life and ministry to be a continuous act of resistance to the forces of empire, and I do, then on Easter, we are celebrating the fact that the Roman’s attempt to squash that resistance instead strengthened it.
Jesus stood up to the historical equivalent of our military-industrial complex and its message of nationalism and domination. He stood up to the historical equivalent of our consumer culture and its emphasis on wealth and purity. His message was that power isn’t worth dying for. Wealth isn’t worth dying for. Status isn’t worth dying for.
The only thing worth dying for is love- and not the love we get, but the love we give.
Last week I told you the UU Sunday School joke about Passover. Here’s the one for Easter.
After they lit a chalice and shared their joys and sorrows, the earnest and well-meaning Sunday school teacher asked her charges, “What can you tell me about Easter?”
Mary raised her hand, excited, and said, “The Easter bunny comes, and brings us baskets with jelly beans and chocolate.”
“Very good, Mary,” said the teacher. “What else?”
Sally raised her hand next. “Mom buys us all new clothes, and she gets a nice dress And a fancy hat.”
“Okay. What else?”
“We eat ham and sweet potato casserole, and all the aunties and uncles come over.”
“We dye eggs and then hide them around the house.”
“We make a diorama out of marshmallow peeps.”
“Hmm.” Says the teacher, somewhat discouraged. “Yes, all that is true- but there’s a story we tell at Easter…”
“Oh! I know!” chimed in Lulu. “We remember Jesus, who died on the cross,”
“Yes!” said the teacher eagerly.
“And laid in his tomb for three days,”
“And on the third, day, he rolled aside the stone,”
“Yes, yes, yes!!!”
“And he saw his shadow and got scared and went back inside, and that’s why we have six more weeks of winter.”
Children love without reservation. Unhindered by knowledge of loss and grief, unspoiled by disappointment, their hearts are wide open. We naturally try to protect them, to shelter them from pain until they have the skills to cope with it. We might share wisdom or advice, but truthfully, the best gift we can give is to really SEE children as the precious beings they are.
I grew up in a Unitarian Universalist congregation, and I can tell you, I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the adults in my Fellowship Family.
To be truthful, I don’t remember much of what they taught me in Sunday School classes. But I remember how they made me feel. They were peaceful and safe, and they cared about me and my well-being, even though they didn’t have to. That I am a minister, today, standing here in front of you, is the result of their legacy of love. Roland Moran. Walt Mayshark. Ruth and Irv Macey. Gigi and Paul Estes. Kathy Hilliard. Paul and Mary Hazelton. I could keep going…
I desperately want to pass this legacy along to the next generation. It’s an easy thing to do, because spending time with the little ones is incredibly joyful and fulfilling. Those of you who have children in this congregation, believe me when I tell you, I really love your kids!
I would lay my life on the line for them. I’d venture to say most of the people here would. It’s actually a natural impulse, to protect innocent children at any cost.
Loving children creates a life worth dying for.
It’s not just children, though, who need our love. It’s not just children who deserve our love. All human beings need to be seen, understood, and appreciated.
We love our friends and family, touching them in ways we often aren’t even aware of. As sad as memorial services are, they’re also incredibly lovely- hearing all the stories of those gentle, transforming moments of connection and love. Sometimes I wish we could jump the gun a little, so that folks could hear ahead of time how precious they are, what a huge impact they’ve had on the people around them. What a gift, to become aware of the legacy of love we’ve woven!
This is not to say that things always go smoothly. Sometimes the people we love act like idiots. We constantly have to make peace with the fact that loving someone does not give us permission to fix them. No one’s legacy is entirely one-sided.
Nevertheless, loving our family and friends creates a life worth dying for.
Our brains sometimes get in the way of creating those caring relationships with people who are different. We tend to categorize and label. Sometimes, we allow fear of the ‘other’ to keep us from reaching out.
When we get out of our head, and let go of those fears, we are able to make heart connections across boundaries of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status. Each of these connections heals some of the wounds left by past mistreatment. Love melts away oppression, one relationship at a time.
It is slow, hard work, and it’s necessary to bring an open mind and a genuine sense of curiosity to the table. Recently, Alban Institute published an article on the shift from ‘charity’ to ‘social justice outreach.’ The former consists of condescendingly serving ‘those in need.’ The latter, taking the time to actually know our neighbors, and to listen to what they need and want.
My colleague Barbara Gadon, has been holding weekly vigils in the St. Louis suburb where she serves since the shooting of Michael Brown. She’s been working hard to network with leaders in the “Black Lives Matter” movement. She talks about the importance of showing up, without an agenda, and being willing to stay in the background. She is doing such good work! And she’s creating a lasting legacy.
Loving our neighbors creates a life worth dying for.
We have to ask ourselves, sometimes on a daily basis and sometimes minute to minute, are we being true to our best selves? As Parker Palmer would put it, is the life we are living the life that is in us wanting to be lived?
In my life, there have been times when my answer to that question was ‘yes,’ and there have been times when the answer was ‘no.’ For a while, I worked as a computer programmer for a financial software company. Can you picture it? I was actually pretty good. But I felt as if my skin didn’t fit right. Getting up each morning was a struggle. Getting through the day was a struggle- how much longer until the lunch break? The 3 o’clock coffee break? Closing time?
The difference between the way I felt back then and the way I feel now is the difference between night and day, between being trapped in a tomb and being free and alive in the sunshine. I don’t know how to describe it, exactly, except to say that when I am doing what I am meant to be doing, there’s a feeling of rightness, of fit, and of flow. The more I lean into that feeling, the happier and the more successful I am.
American theologian and writer Howard Thurman has said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” What makes you come alive?
If we are to live a life worth dying for, we have to be awake and alive. We have to be our authentic selves. We have to be courageous in our choices, and we have to lead with our heart. We have to find the particular way we are meant to be contributing; we have to discern our unique place in the grand scheme. And we know we’ve figured it out when we are full of joy and satisfaction, eager to get up in the morning and get back to it.
Loving what we do creates a life worth dying for.
Because everything is connected, part of the interdependent web, even our smallest actions have a ripple effect. We can’t always know exactly the impact our choices will have. However, if we spend time out-of-doors, and if we value the health of our planet, we will take care to tread lightly on the earth.
In this era of overpopulation and global climate change, we are called upon to change how we do things, and to advocate for sustainability. The future of our species depends upon our ability to mitigate the damage already done by our way of life. The bad news is that it’s a big, complex problem. The good news is that it’s a big, complex problem, and just about anything we can see our way clear to do- just about any entry point- holds the potential to make a real difference.
It feels good to breathe fresh air. It feels good to walk in the forest. It feels good to dig in the dirt. Love for the planet leads naturally to respect for her limits.
Loving the earth creates a life worth dying for.
I could go on. The list of ways we can love, people we can love, aspects of life we can love, is just about limitless. The more we love, the bigger our legacy. The bigger our legacy, the more worthwhile our life.
Loving takes courage. In fact, the word “courage” comes from the French word, ‘coeur,’ or heart. All our lives, we need to search our hearts for the courage to deliberately choose what is right, what is loving, over what is expected or what is expedient.
We have to love knowing that it makes us vulnerable. We have to love knowing that we will be disappointed. We have to love knowing that our hearts are going to break over and over again. In the face of loss and grief, injustice and pain, we have to turn toward love, no matter how scared we might feel.
This is “The Healing Time” by Pesha Joyce Gertier:
Finally on my way to yes
I bump into
all the places
where I said no
to my life
all the untended wounds
the red and purple scars
those hieroglyphs of pain
carved into my skin, my bones,
those coded messages
that send me down
the wrong street
again and again
where I find them
the old wounds
the old misdirections
and I lift them
one by one
close to my heart
and I say holy
Loving ourselves, forgiving ourselves, allows us to love others more skillfully. Loving our own unique and precious self creates a life worth dying for.
Loving abundantly is the bravest and most revolutionary choice we can make. Brian Andreas writes, “Anyone can slay a dragon… But try waking up every morning and loving the world all over again. That’s what takes a real hero.” If we are to be the heroes of our own stories, we need to ground our lives in love and gratitude. We need to always pursue the ‘yes’ of love, offering our hearts and naming each moment sacred.
The ultimate Easter poem is written by e.e. cummings, son of a Unitarian minister.
i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
In spite of a culture that invites us to be self-centered and materialistic, may we have the courage to love “everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.”
May we give thanks for our generous hearts, and may we offer ourselves freely, in service to the greater good.