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Invocation for Volunteer Recognition and Annual Meeting of the YMCA
April 29, 2015, 9:59 pm
Filed under: Children and Youth, Prayer

Invocation for the YMCA of Superior California’s

Annual Meeting and Volunteer Celebration, April 29, 2015 

by Rev. Roger Jones, YMCA Advisory Board

Please join me for a few moments for reflection and intention as I offer these words of prayer.

Spirit of life-giving Love, whom we invoke by many names and call upon in varied moments of life, we call on you now to bless this meeting, this meal, and those who are sharing this time together as volunteers, donors, staffers, leaders, and loved ones.

We give thanks for being together here in this place, and for the great institution of the YMCA, which we serve and support with our generous gifts of time, talent, money and good will.

We give thanks for the volunteers and staff here with us now. We give thanks also for those absent from this event but whom we count as our YMCA colleagues and friends in pursuit of the Y’s mission to build strong children, strong families and strong communities, and to inspire lives of more joy and beauty, health and wholeness among ever-growing numbers of people.

So may it be. Amen.

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Pastoral Prayer for UU worship service, July 20, 2014

Rev. Roger Jones, Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento

Now please join me in a time of contemplation, in words and silence. Notice your feet on the floor and your body in the seat. Notice your breathing, in and out. Relax your eyes, whether open or closed.

O Spirit of the calm summer clouds, ease our souls, as we gather in reflection and in hope. We give thanks for those around us in this community of encouragement and welcome.

We give thanks for the gift of life and the gift of this new day.

Life is fragile and fleeting, and many of us are thinking of those we have lost, perhaps recently, or some time ago. Let us make the sound of their names now at this time and, by our speaking, let us bring them into the space of our sanctuary with us.

Life holds many kinds of challenge. We hold in our hearts those who need our good wishes and help for all kinds of struggle, and we offer our own burdens to compassion’s warm embrace. We ask for serenity, courage, and wisdom as we make each new step on the journey of life.

Life brings occasions for joy and gratitude. Let us call to mind the milestones and celebrations that lighten our spirits. Whether speaking aloud into the sanctuary or whispering to ourselves, let us now speak of our joys or those of others.

Many another’s good fortune lift our own hearts in praise of joy.

Life brings change to this hallowed spiritual home. As this congregation prepares to vacate this building for a year of construction, we recognize the dedication of our volunteers and staff members. Their vision, purpose, collaboration, reliability and generosity have brought us to this point of promise. We give thanks!

At the same time, we must look beyond these walls to the desperation and agony afflicting the human family. We lift up the people of many tragic scenes, including three in recent weeks or days. A Malaysian jetliner was destroyed by a missile fired from separatist rebel-held areas of Ukraine, killing hundreds of innocent adults and children. Fighting in the Gaza Strip in Palestine is now in its 13th day. The Israeli military and Palestinian Hamas militants ratchet up the violence, with Hamas missile strikes into Israel and a military incursion of tanks and troops into Palestine.   At last report, the lives lost include at least 5 Israelis and 336 Palestinians, including 65 dead children. [As of July 21, per the New York Times, 27 Israelis and 556 Palestinians have been killed.]  It was the killing of teenagers from both sides that sparked this wave of pain and chaos. It makes the heart weep.

On the United States border with Mexico, hundreds of thousands of Central American youngsters arrive as refugees from the destitution and violence of their home cities and villages.   While fragile children wait for mercy, U.S. government leaders vacillate and fight.   While some citizens argue, others go to guard the children or send money for basic needs.

We lift our voices to the sky to call for a world without violence. We long for a renewed wave of dignity and healing to cover the human family. We extend prayers for peace to all places of conflict and oppression, near and far.

May each of us have the courage to do what we can. May we choose the ways of peace and courage.

Now let us take silence together for a minute. May we come home to our breathing.   May we come home to the feelings of being alive. Now May the breath of life breathe in us a new sense of hope and the motivation to make that hope a reality. Blessed Be and Amen. Namaste.



Chalice Lighting Words, Ordination Ceremony, March 29, 2014

Words for Chalice Lighting by Roger Jones

Ceremony of Ordination of Amy Moses Lagos to the UU Ministry

Saturday, March 29, 2014, in San Francisco

Good afternoon. When Amy Moses-Lagos was growing up in Springfield, Illinois, she attended the Abraham Lincoln Fellowship, Unitarian Universalist, now the Abraham Lincoln Congregation.

I know this, because when she was six, I was one of her Sunday School teachers there, when I was younger then, than she is now. Of course, this means that of everyone in this room who has had a formative influence on Amy as a Unitarian Universalist, I had the earliest influence, and therefore I guess the most profound…unless you count her mother, brother and sister, who are also here

Back then, in that congregation, at the start of every Sunday service, a child would lead the congregation in words for lighting the chalice.

Those words, and ours today, are combined from two sources: the late Rev. Elizabeth Selle Jones, now departed, the minister emerita of our church in Livermore, and from a Passover Haggadah, whose words are in the gray hymnal.

 

This flame affirms the light of truth, the warmth of community, and the fire of commitment.  [Selle Jones]

Please repeat each line after me:

 May the light we now kindle -PAUSE

Inspire us to use our powers -PAUSE

To heal and not to harm, -PAUSE

To help and not to hinder, -PAUSE

To bless and not to curse, -PAUSE

To serve you, Spirit of Freedom!

 

So may it be.



The Spirituality of Expectation–What Are You Waiting For? UUSS Sermon for December 8, 2013

 NOTE:  Many folks did not hear this sermon because the California International Marathon made it very hard to get to church.  It closes Fair Oaks Boulevard from Folsom, CA, to the Capitol.  Traffic near the church slows down as race fans try to find parking to walk over to Fair Oaks and as the police make drivers detour at both of our nearby intersections.  The first hymn was my conciliatory nod to the Marathon, but it remains an annual frustration!

 UU Society of Sacramento

Second Sunday of Advent, December 8, 2013

Shared Offering benefits St. John’s Shelter Program for Women & Children

Hymns:  #348 “Guide My Feet (While I Run this Race),” #100 “I’ve Got Peace Like a River,” #352, “Find a Stillness,” #91, “Mother of All.”

Sermon

“Do you know what message I am going to preach to you today?”  This is what the great Islamic Mullah said as he looked out on the people gathered for Friday prayers.  Nasruddin, the Mullah, appears in many Sufi stories as a wise trickster and sort of a goofball.  He asked the crowd this question, and they shook their heads—no.  He said: “Well, why would I waste my time speaking to people who don’t know my message? Go home!”  They did, but they invited the great Nasrudin to come back the following Friday.

“Do you know the message I am going to tell you today?” he asked.  Yes, yes!  We do!  they smiled.  “Go home!” he shouted. “Why would I take the time to repeat what you already know?”

This troubled the congregation.  They really wanted to hear from this wise Mullah!  So they made a plan.  The next jumah, the Friday prayers, they had him back.  He asked, “Do you know what I am going to say to you?”  And half of them shook their heads no, and the other half nodded and said yes!              “Finally,” Nasrudin said.  “Now, those of you who know what I am going to say, turn to those who don’t know what I am going to say, and tell them.”  And he left.

This is a story about one kind of expectation—an assumption of the way things are.  It’s when you are counting on something—and in this story, you don’t get it.  Something else happens from what you expect.

On Monday I was at a Catholic retreat center in with a group of UU clergy colleagues.  In the dining hall we found these little plastic containers of coffee creamer.  On the cover it reads:  “Non-Dairy Creamer.”  Under that it says, “Contains Milk.”

This wording led to speculation on our part.  Can you get milk without a dairy?  We laughed it off, and someone found a carton of 2% milk and a box of soymilk.  We were amused by this experience of having our expectations upended.  We didn’t get what we were counting on.

That’s one kind of expectation.  The other kind of expectation is the experience of waiting.  The Reverend Dr. Christina Hutchins is a professor at Pacific School of Religion.  A year ago she gave a sermon on Advent, the season of waiting for Christmas.  She said that the experience of waiting is a complete and authentic spiritual experience on its own.  It is not merely the delay of an event, not the denied gratification of an authentic experience. Expectation is a complete experience on its own.  Like all spiritual experiences, it’s worth paying attention to it.  This is the spirituality of expectation—finding wisdom in the waiting, seeking to gain from the journey along the way.

Right now we are waiting for Solstice and Christmas and New Year’s Eve and Kwanzaa and so on.   Growing up in a mainstream Protestant household, Christmas was what I waited for.  But in truth, I just wanted to get it over with!  This Thursday morning I will be one of the speakers at the UUSS Alliance’s holiday lunch program.   Alliance chairperson Vivian Counts invited four of us to tell of a holiday memory from our lives.  I’m glad there are three others talking, because I can’t think of any inspiring Christmas memory from the years before I was a minister.

As a child I dreaded the loneliness I felt when school was out for those two weeks.  Television was the distracting technology of those days, and the TV often was on, but it did not satisfy.  I craved the many shiny packages under the tree, but after tearing into them on Christmas Day, the emptiness inside me felt even sharper.  The alcohol abuse and animosity among my relatives made me feel as if I was walking on eggshells.  For me, Christmas was to be gotten through.  My family  went to church many Sunday mornings, but somehow it never occurred to the family to go to church on Christmas Eve, nor to attend  any community concerts or special programs in our town.  Had we done such activities together, it might have given us a little spiritual nourishment.   Perhaps by this Thursday’s Alliance meeting I’ll remember some suitable holiday memories to tell.  If not, I could ask the gathering, “Do you know what I am going to say to you today?”  Then they can tell one another.

Among the human family, with the broad variety of conditions and situations in which we find ourselves, we human beings have all sorts of waiting to do.  We have many ways to experience waiting, ways to think about our waiting, and make use of the time.

People in prison are people who are waiting—waiting for their sentence to end, waiting for a friendly visit or a letter, waiting for the next meal.  For some, the wait is a long time.  Yet in that time of waiting, some prisoners are lucky to find a way to grow.   Some have access in prison to theater arts and poetry, or to study for a GED or a college degree or to learn, simply, to read and write.  It’s my impression that prisons are some of the places where people are most likely to begin an intensive spiritual search or to deepen one.  Great spiritual classics have been written in jail– by Dr. Martin Luther King and the Apostle Paul for example.

I’ve read and heard many ex-inmates testifying that a spiritual practice is what saved them.  In prison many people experience conversion to Islam, or accept Jesus Christ as their Savior, join a 12-Step group, or begin Buddhist meditation.  The online congregation known as the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Larger Fellowship supports a prison ministry by mail, and some UU congregations have their own ministries to nearby prisons.  In a book about Buddhism behind bars, one convicted felon writes that mindfulness meditation has been a tool for him in prison, and a blessing.  His waiting for the end of his sentence is the occasion of his practice in mindful awareness.  Sometimes, he says, they throw him in solitary confinement, a common management practice in prisons today.  Solitary sounds frightening and lonely to me.  Yet this man says that he tries to think of it as an opportunity for a deeper practice of mindfulness.  This blows my mind!  Those in confinement have no choice—only the choice between awareness of the moments at hand and suffering in agony about the long wait for confinement’s end.

Nelson Mandela spent 26 years in prison under the white Apartheid government of South Africa.  What a long, uncertain wait!  His passing last week at age 95 makes me want to learn about that experience, as well as other details of his life in the freedom struggle in South Africa.  I want to know what sustained him.    He could never be sure if he would live his entire life in prison, be released, or be executed.  Did Mandela know his people had not forgotten him?  Did he know that activists around the world were demanding his release?  He practiced the spirituality of waiting.

A friend has told me a story about Mandela’s time in confinement.  After some years, he was transferred to the Robben Island prison, infamous for its harshness.  He found himself doing hard labor, with other political prisoners. Their task:  breaking rocks in a quarry, pointless.  Robben Island also held other inmates, those convicted of murder, armed robbery, sexual assault.   Many were members of criminal gangs with reputations for terrorizing other inmates.  They tried to push the political prisoners around, take their food, or disrupt any political conversations.  By this harassment, they were trying to provoke the activists to reacting.

Members of these gangs labored in the quarry, but in separate groups from the political activists.  One day they began singing a song, taking a popular tune and changing the words to mock the political prisoners.  They were again trying to provoke them into a reaction.  And they got one.

The political prisoners decided to fight back–by singing.  In response they chose a rousing, familiar song.  Typically it was not a political song, but in this context, they charged it with political accusations.  The two groups competed by singing, back and forth.  For several days, these opponents confronted one another–in song.  Nelson Mandela later claimed that his men had much better voices, with wonderful harmony.  He and his group would often get lost in their music-making.  They would forget all about the gang members, who had taunted and threatened them.  Soon the gang members became quiet.  They only listened, as the political prisoners made music.  The singing brought peace.

When the prison guards figured out what was happening, they demanded that the music cease.  They didn’t even allow whistling.   In the stillness that followed, it was clear to Mandela that fears had melted away.  By pushing back, creatively, the political prisoners converted hostile opponents into people with a shared plight, a shared condition of confinement and waiting.  By choosing creative action, Mandela’s colleagues sang away their passive despair and their fear.  They brought meaning into their time of waiting by choosing to be creative.

When I think about the waiting of people in such painful situations, it’s embarrassing to say I want to get the month of December over with!  It puts into clear perspective my feelings of dread of the loss of daylight, my irritation with holiday commercialism, my frustration with traffic, like the slow traffic on this Marathon Sunday here in our neighborhood.  I say to myself:  So what!  How lucky I am only to have to wait for traffic to move!          The Buddhist priest Thich Nhat Hanh writes that waiting in traffic at a red stop light is a chance to practice being mindful.  Red light, notice the moment.  Notice our experience of sitting in the car or waiting at the cross walk.   Red light, notice the moment.  Blessed be the red light, great companion of our waiting!

What are you waiting for?  Most of us are waiting for something… a job, a pension or Social Security, a baby to be born or an adoption agency to call with good news.  We wait for an upcoming trip, happiness, our next birthday, this semester’s grade report.  We wait for a diagnosis or lab results from a clinic, for moving day, for Christmas Eve.  Most of us are waiting for something, most of the time.   Meanwhile, we have days and moments in which to live and move and have our being, we have a journey called what’s going on right now.

Personally I am waiting for January 26, the day of the congregational vote here at UUSS, on my candidacy to be the called senior minister.  I’m now in month number six of my seven-month job interview with you.  It’s a long wait.  Part of me would like it to be over.  But you and I have seven months of life to live and ministry to do before then, while we wait.

So I am doing my best to enjoy the journey, enjoy the moments of ministry that pass before that big day.  After all, if I were walking on a sidewalk under a tall building and moving men were maneuvering a grand piano out of a window and it slipped out of their control, and it fell on me, my waiting would end right then.  This example, this wise warning, is handed down to us in the sacred scripture of the Warner Brothers cartoons, with which I grew up.

Given the uncertainty of anything we are waiting for, why not choose to pay attention?  Give some attention to the complete, authentic experience of waiting?  Explore the journey of our experience of each day.

Sooner or later, what we are waiting for does not arrive, or we do not arrive at that point.  The piano falls.  The traffic light turns red and does not change back to green.  In matters of life both great and small, we will end… before we reach the end.  To do authentic waiting is a challenge–and a paradox.  It means we need to invite patience, be gentle, and practice curiosity.  Yet given that we cannot count on reaching every goal, every end, it seems we should not wait on some things.

We should not wait to live with courage.   Should not wait to speak the truth and speak with kindness.  Not wait to live as our conscience and heart are asking us to live.  We should not wait to be grateful.  Not wait to be generous.  Not wait to take care of our health and our spirits.

We can stretch ourselves, open our hearts, and practice a bit more courage as we wait.  By the way we live in the time of waiting, we can prepare ourselves better for whatever we might be waiting for.

We are waiting for Solstice, when the night is longest, and the days begin to have more light once again.  Meanwhile we have a new day to welcome, every day.   We have sundown by 5 PM and sunrise by 7 AM, and a day full of whatever it brings, with the touch and flavor of waiting as an authentic part of the experience.

The experience of expectation is an authentic and complete spiritual experience by itself.  Waiting for the green light, for the holiday, for the solstice night, is not the delay of the prize or its absence; it holds a prize all its own.  With awareness, we can move toward wholeness in the moment.  On every day of our journey, we can pause to notice what is already here, and give thanks.  And give thanks.  So may it be.



Time of Darkness and Light– UUSS Sermon from Sunday, December 15, 2013

Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento

Music:  Hymns:  #226 “People, Look East,” #118 “This Little Light of mine,” #1008 “When Our Heart Is in a Holy Place.”  Solo:  “The Dark” by Mary Grigolia, sung a capella by Rev. Lucy.

Litany of Darkness and Light    (see at end)

Sermon

I sat looking out the kitchen window well before 7 in the morning, just last week.  I felt the chilly air seeping in, and a mug of warm tea in my cold hands.  I was ready to watch the morning light emerge, was waiting for the sunlight to change the look of everything.  But I felt sadness.  The tea had caffeine—how long would it take to change my mood, if it could?  This mood was not of deep grief, and not a heavy burden of depression on my shoulders, yet it was a decidedly not-fun feeling of sadness.   I said my morning prayer anyway.

I gave thanks for the gift of life and the new day, for a night’s rest in a warm, safe place.  I lifted up the names of parishioners who need good wishes or prayers, brought their faces to mind, plus those of colleagues, friends, and relatives.  I stated my intentions for living the day with gratitude, generosity, curiosity and kindness.  The light was now making the street visible, and showing the colors of the cars parked on it.

Then it occurred to me:  that pre-dawn darkness was just the right place for my sadness.  The shadows could receive it.  The shadows could let the sadness move, in its own gentle way.  Had it been 7 AM in June or July, the sun would have claimed the whole scene by now.  It would be urging me into the many tasks of the day:  Get going, look alive!  But the morning darkness of December seems to say, “Take it easy and slowly–I am taking it easy and slowly, after all.  Let it be.  Feel what you feel in this moment.  You will notice how it changes.”

Soon it was bright and clear, and my day was on its way.  And it went fast.  The night came in the middle of the day—5 o’clock.  Wait!  I’m not finished with my day yet!

For years I have resisted and resented the early evening.  I’ve dreaded the shrinking hours of daylight, starting in early November, when we set our clocks back an hour.

But as this December Solstice approaches, I try to appreciate what can happen in the dark.  I would like to mention a few of the gifts of the time of darkness, but first I want to say:  it’s not a gift for everyone, no matter what a preacher or a poet might say.

Like many people, a friend of mine has a clinical, biological reaction in the winter darkness, called Seasonal Affective Disorder.  It does not help that she lives at a latitude even farther north than we do, and it’s cold there, for a long time.  You know what they would call the chilly weather we’ve had this past week?  Springtime (without the mud).

She sits under a special kind of lamp every day, to give her body and spirit some extra rays of light.  In retirement she has the time to travel, so she spends a few weeks in the winter visiting friends in warm, sunny places.  When she can save up enough money and find a cheap deal, she takes a trip to a warm country.  Not speaking Vietnamese, she made her way around villages in Vietnam by pointing and smiling.  In the sunshine of Egypt a few years ago, she heard people speak with hope right after the overthrow of longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.  She enjoyed the January summer of Argentina, taking in the spray of Iguazu falls, the marvel of a glacier, and some penguins in their stiff cuteness.  Rather than cursing the dark and cold, she follows the sun.  Of course, this is not an option for most people, and she gives thanks for the privilege to do so.

It’s important to note that seasons of darkness and cold can be very hard on the spirit, hard on the emotional health of many people around us.  It may not only bring up grief or painful memories of past experiences, it may bring depression that weighs on our minds and even on our physical bodies.  This can happen to people young or old, in any occupation or stage of life.  When other ways of dealing with the shadow side of this dark time don’t seem to help us, it may be worth seeing if anti-depressant medicines, psychotherapy, or a 12-Step recovery group can make a difference for us.  Whether as individuals or as families, we can look for professional resources and community support as we pursue emotional healing, personal growth, and the ability to accept the gift of life with joy.

Personal growth can happen in the dark times and places.  Seeds will sprout in the cool dark of the earth, and begin their journey toward the light.  As a tree stretches toward the sun, it also grows downward, inward, into the dark earth.  We can be like the trees.  As Henry David Thoreau said, “In winter we lead a more inward life.”

Another friend of mine lives not so far north, so the weather’s not as cold and the nights not as long.  Yet the winter darkness does mean a change of her pattern of living, toward a more inward life.   She spends more time under the covers, reading a book propped on the pillow next to her.   In the living room she brings out candles and a string of holiday lights.  They remind her of our inner light, of an eternal spark.  Believing that winter is the best time for exercise, she puts on layers and goes out for a brisk walk.  The leaves crunch underfoot, the air chills the skin of the face, the nose runs.

In winter, she says, we need exercise to stimulate our endorphins.  Of course, we can be tempted to medicate our mood by drinking more alcohol and eating more, especially sweets and other carbohydrates.  But the boost we might feel by consuming alcohol and sweets can have a down side.  It can make us feel worse—edgy–after the boost wears off.   This December I am taking some of her advice.  Of course, I may never stop my holiday consumption of cookies, cake, fudge and anything else any of you might wish to make for me.  But I’m eating more almonds and pecans and not forgetting my veggies.  And I am having less alcohol, and drinking less often.   I’m not crazy about green tea, but I’ve been drinking so much of it lately that soon I may turn the color of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

One Unitarian Universalist family I know has created their own Solstice tradition.  With candles and cloths they make an altar of their table.  They bake a light brown, round ginger cake—dense and only an inch thick.  They serve it on a large round plate with a rim glazed with dark blue like the sky, and specked with stars.  They pass the cake around, each one cutting a piece for the next person, who indicates by nods and silent gestures how large of a piece to cut.

As the cake is served, what is revealed underneath it in the center of the plate is a round red sun.  The sun returns!  For Solstice dinner, they eat only foods with round shapes, evoking the sun.  They read prayers to the divine light and sing chants to the source of returning warmth.  The parents hide little suns around the house and the kids go searching for them.  By finding a likeness of sun, they are bringing the sun back, helping it return.  This family does not rely on the dominant culture to tell them what they need to do or to buy for making spirits bright—they create their own traditions.  Any of us can be creative.  We can join with nature and with other people to create our own light, and share the light, now in the dark of winter.

For many people, winter is a time for making soup and other warm foods, and eating more of the fresh foods that our season brings out.  In California we have so many winter crops.  Those in cold climates now can benefit from quick transport of fresh foods, but in the old days they kept food in the root cellar, and dried meat and beans from the summer crop.

Back home in Indiana, my mother’s fridge held many frozen foods for our winter meals, and this was fine.  But around the corner from our house, my uncle and aunt had shelves of clear glass jars with green beans, tomatoes, corn and other produce they had canned in the summer.   My uncle Roger had been a cook on a ship in the Navy during the Second World War.  As a boy I helped him in the kitchen, including his major undertaking of putting up all that food, with Mason jars boiling in big pots of water and other steps for cleanliness and safety.  That was a summer activity, but the memory of it warms me in the winter.

Now I can see that we were storing sunshine in shiny glass jars.

The poet Theodore Roethke wrote, “In a dark time the eye begins to see.”

The darkness can help us to see the truth… that we are not in control of everything.  We can be so busy in our lives, have so many expectations.  So many technologies at our fingertips and conveniences in our daily experience can lull us into thinking that there is an online menu tab for peace of mind or an iPad application for wisdom, courage, and grace.

The world does not revolve around any of us, including me; nor does earth rotate at my command.   Its creation is a miracle and a blessing. The operation of the heavens is a wonder.  And it all goes on without my permission or involvement. It will go on without me.  The darkness comes and goes—my cursing it or my blessing it affects only the condition of my own spirit.  The season’s advice to me:  you need not be in control, and in fact you are not in control.  Let the darkness hold the future.  Let go!

We can be intentional about living in the darker season. This is why candles appeal to us:  the darker it gets around them, the more they show their beauty.   Looking at a candle flame, or a string of lights on the tree or around the window, we can think about the meaning of light, and the bringers of light—like our nearby star, the human mind and heart, the source of love and light eternal, the creative spark, the divine fire of courage and compassion.

Solstice rituals use fire and food and song—to bless the darkness with beauty, while praising the cycles of the seasons of the earth.   People hang lights at Christmas to praise the source of life, celebrate the story of the star of Bethlehem, and remember that sun and warmth will return.

On Christmas Eve at UUSS, our sanctuary fills with members and their friends, and with guests we see only once a year.  In the weeks leading up to it, folks ask me the time:  seven o’clock, same as always.  They ask me if we will light candles and sing “Silent Night,” at the end.  Of course!  We will make a circle around the walls of the sanctuary, and exchange the light with one another, and then enjoy the darkness, filled with song and silence, and with faces illuminated by the flames.

Folks never ask:  will we sing the carols and hear a homily, will we have some instrumental music, prayer and silence and an offering?  All those things are like the setup to the “Silent Night” candle light finale!  Yet without those elements, the finale would be weak.

Without the darkness, our candles would be weak.  Likewise, without the embrace of the darkness, we might not have the reminder to plan ahead, create meaning in the season, and reach out for fellowship and support.  The darkness holds an invitation to let go of all that we cannot control, and accept with serenity all that we can’t change.

At my kitchen window, in my early morning watch for the light, the dark of winter seems to say:  “Take it easy, and go slowly–I am taking it easy, and going slowly, after all.  Let it be.  Feel what you feel in this moment.  You will notice how it changes.”

The dark of winter is a time to consider the sources of light we can count on, and give thanks for them.  It’s the season for tasting the warmth of nourishing food, made by human hands from the gifts of the earth for our sustenance and our joy. It’s a season for creativity, planning ahead, self-care and care for others.  It’s a time for digging deep and for reaching out toward others with compassion, openness, and kindness.

It’s a time for patience and letting go of control, for releasing the past and opening to the mystery of the future.  May we all be so blessed.

In the days to come, may you welcome the gifts of light and warmth you can bring into the darkness.  May the days and nights ahead bless us with light, learning, warmth, patience and peace.               Blessed be.


 

Litany of Darkness and Light

 

Part A (Before silent meditation/prayer)

 

Voice 1:  We wait in the darkness expectantly, longingly, anxiously, thoughtfully.

Voice 2:  In the darkness of the womb, we have all been nurtured and protected.

All Voices:  May we feel comfort in the darkness.

 

It is only in the darkness that we can see the splendor of the universe– blankets of stars, the solitary glowing of distant planets.

In the darkness of the night sky we feel beyond time – in the presence of the past, and with the promise of the future.

May we feel hope in the darkness.

 

In the solitude of the darkness we may remember those who need our love and support in special ways–

 the sick, the unemployed, the bereaved, the persecuted, the homeless, those who are demoralized or discouraged, those whose fear has turned to cynicism, those whose vulnerability has become bitterness.

Sometimes in the darkness we remember those who are near to our hearts – colleagues, partners, parents, children, neighbors, friends, congregation members.   We pray for their safety and happiness.  We offer our support.

May we know healing in the darkness.


 

 

Part B (After musical interlude following sermon)

 

In the quiet darkness of the night, we may hear that still, small voice within.

In the blessed darkness we may be transformed, changed by what we face in the dark.

May we feel the challenge of the darkness.

 

In the darkness of sleep, we are soothed and restored, healed and renewed.

In the darkness of sleep dreams rise up, calling us to possibilities, calling us to know our connection to the world.

May we feel joy in the darkness.               

Sometimes in the solitude of darkness our fears and concerns, our hopes and our visions rise to the surface. We come face to face with ourselves.   We find the road that lies ahead of us.

Sometimes in the darkness we wonder about the important things, the deep things, and inexpressible things.  We watch for glimmers of hope and glimpses of grace.

May we feel renewed in the darkness.  May we be guided by the light of our hearts.  Reflecting the divine love that shines at the heart of life,  let us reach out to this troubled world with compassion.

New Century Hymnal, adapted



Pastoral Prayer for UUSS service Sunday, September 8, 2013

On these warm and shining days, it is a blessing to draw the breath of life.   Let us give thanks for this day and for all our gifts.  Sitting near us are fellow seekers on the journey toward wholeness, joy and hope.  We give thanks for this time to be still and reflect with one another.

We come together, in part, for celebration of the joys and achievements of life.  On this opening day of a new year of Religious Education, we give thanks for a committed corps of adult volunteers and for so many full-hearted youth, children, and babies.   Today we say farewell to four homeless families after a week of hospitality here through Family Promise, and give thanks for the generosity of our many volunteers.  At this time, let us call out and give voice to the glad occasions of our own lives and of those people we celebrate.   PAUSE.

On many hearts are those who need healing and care.  We embrace those among us mourning a loss, living through transitions, tending an injury, worrying about jobs or finances, facing an unwelcome diagnosis, wrestling with addiction, or working a recovery program, one day at a time.  We send our love to you.  We send our love to all who are healing from surgery and other treatments, including Mary, convalescing after a broken hip.  Tami, home after surgery.  Ginny, regaining strength after a heart attack.  Jerry, back with us after a long bout of pneumonia while out of the country.  Now let us speak the names of others on our minds.  Whether whispering to ourselves or saying a name aloud, let us bring into the space of our sanctuary those who need our loving wishes. PAUSE.

On this day also we hear of wars and rumors of wars.  So many are living with fear, pain and loss in zones of conflict, including the civil war in Syria.  Wedded to power, the Syrian tyrant kills children and adults without mercy, even with chemical weapons, dealing death and agony to hundreds.  A hodgepodge of rebel forces, understandably outraged, now has grown to include extremists.  They use weapons, fighters and money from terrorists; they bring boys into battle and scar their souls.  We, as caring people, feel helpless.  American leaders debate an American military action, bombing.  Such an action seems to have no clear objective, but has many unforeseen risks.  Many of us may protest against military action, but we must also grieve the bloodshed that continues.  There is no good answer to this dilemma.  Who can say?  There may be no answer at all.  Certainly, no answer can make us pure.

We contemplate this tragedy in humility and in mourning.  Now two million Syrians, having fled the strife of their nation, try to stay alive and sane in refugee camps.  Let our hearts reach toward them.  Let our efforts our nation’s generosity hasten to their aid and their survival.  As we speak for nonviolence, let us pray for mercy.  As we long for mercy, let us act for healing in all the ways we can, wherever we may be.

In all the choices of life, let us act for healing and wholeness, and give thanks for all our gifts.  On these warm and shining days, as we draw the breath of life, let us remember how fragile is the gift of life.  Now let us take a minute of silence, just for the simple gift of being alive, here, together as members of the human family.  Amen.

ONE MINUTE OF SILENCE.  SOLO VOICE SINGS #218:  “Who Can Say?”



Roots and Wings: Annual Ingathering and Water Communion

Ingathering Sunday, August 25, 2013

Prelude                                             Prelude from Suite Bergamasque

-Claude Debussy

Nicholas Dold, Guest Pianist

Invocation                                                              Rev. Lucy Bunch

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. This house of laughter and silence, memory and hope,
        is hallowed by our presence together.

-Kathleen McTigue

*Hymn #347                                                             Gather the Spirit

-Jim Scott

Welcome & Announcements                                Rev. Roger Jones

            Welcome to UUSS.  I am Roger Jones, happy to serve here as the acting senior minister.

Whoever you are, and however you arrived here, and whatever you may be seeking, please know that you are welcome here.  This congregation strives to be inclusive regarding the diversity of religious and spiritual beliefs and practices reflected among us, as well as of gender identity, sexual orientation, cultural background, economic situation, and political opinion.  We strive to see diversity as a source of strength and richness.

With me today making the service possible:  Rev. Lucy, Religious Services Committee members Deirdre   and Diane  , and Erik  , our Sound Manager Ian , our new Board President, Linda .

Our two music staff members are not here today, so I am happy to introduce you to our guest pianist and a brand new Californian, Nicholas Dold. Read about him in Thursday’s Ministerial Message email or in the order of service.

We also give thanks to the ushers, greeters, coffee and tea servers– today and every Sunday.  We offer special thanks today to the salad makers for the lunch of salad, bread and dessert that will follow the service.  Thanks to Glory  and Keith for planning and putting this on, along with her volunteer team.  [Other groups will be invited to sign up to put on a Salad Sunday.]

This lunch is a mini-fundraiser for the church, with a sliding scale of donations ranging from 4 dollars per person to 4,000 dollars per person.  Trust me, this lunch will be worth it!

Three important conversations after the service, for your salad-munching consideration.  Please see the Blue Sheet.

Coming of Age orientation for youth interested in this special program for making friends across the generations, developing UU identity and building your own set of beliefs and articulating them.

There is an American Friends Service Committee presentation on the 49-day hunger strike in California prisons by prisoners protesting the widespread use of solitary confinement in our State.

Our Implementing the Master Plan team offers you a Master Plan Update – here in the Sanctuary.  First part of our master plan is our outdoor Labyrinth.  Diane Kelly-Abrams invites you to come Saturday morning till 2 PM on September 7 to help lay the bricks and finish the Labyrinth.

In two weeks, on September 8, we move back to a schedule of two Sunday services.  Religious Education for youth and children will take place during the 9:30 service.

Today’s service is our Ingathering Service, when we kick off a new church year in our congregation.  This is our welcome service.

If you have been away the past few months, welcome back.  If you have been taking the summer off from church…I hereby forgive you.  Almost completely.  And I say, welcome back.

If you are just now visiting us for the first time, checking us out, looking for a spiritual home, we extend a welcome to you.  Every person sitting here has been in the same situation as a first time visitor, and we have hung around and kept coming back.  We invite you to fill out a Newcomer Form at the Welcome Table in the back after the service, and to make a nametag for yourself after the service.  We invite you to please stay afterwards so we can get to know you.

Greeting with the Hand of Fellowship

Now please we ask you to put your cell phones on their most reverent setting for the rest of the worship service.  It would be nice to have an awesome review on Yelp about our congregation or a happy Tweet about the service, but please wait until afterwards.

Now I’d like to invite you to reflect on the freedom and power that each one of you has.  No matter whether you are a brand new seeker here or a long time church member, young or old, rich or poor or somewhere in the middle, you have the power to give an amazing and welcome gift to a few other people. And that is the simple gift of the words, “Good Morning!  Welcome!”  You could make it better if you introduced yourself by name.  Let’s try that now.  Please rise as you are able and reach out and greet a few other people.

*Hymn (words on insert)                       Spirit of Life/Fuente de Amor

-Carolyn McDade; Spanish trans. Ervin Barrios

Our Mission, Values and Covenant

We come together to deepen our lives
and be a force for healing in the world.

We value the goodness in everyone,
the openness and curiosity that illuminate that goodness
and the love and courage that sustain us.

We, an intergenerational community, travel together

with open minds, open hearts, and helping hands.

We value justice, compassion, integrity and acceptance.

We seek spiritual growth, intellectual stimulation,

caring and laughter.

To these ends we pledge our time, talents and support.

Commissioning of Rev. Lucy, Assistant Minister

See separate attachment

Prayer and Meditation                                                     Erik B.

Gift of Music                                  “Ondine” from Preludes, Book II

-Claude Debussy

 

Sermonette:  Roots and Wings

         

            Our song “Spirit of Life” sings: Roots hold me close; wings set me free.   That’s what I’d like us to think about for a few moments.  Roots and wings.

The writer Brian Nelson says:

People think of the roots of their lives as fixed, while their lives keep growing toward the sun.  But roots keep growing, too, in unexpected ways and directions….  Your story changes as you grow and learn new truths about yourself.  Even as your wings set you free, make sure that you keep track of the … ways in which [you are] grounded.

One of the reasons we seek out religious communities, I think, is to put down roots and spread our wings.  We practice new expressions of ourselves.  We find opportunities to learn, reflect, put our gifts to use, and stretch ourselves.  When we first get involved, we may not know what to expect, but if we stay engaged with anything for a time, opportunities for growth appear.  Opportunities to stretch our wings appear.

I first became a member of a Unitarian Universalist congregation when I was 24, starting my first career, living alone in a new city in the middle of the Illinois prairie.  People in the church were friendly, and after my first visit, some called me by name.  It helped that I wore a nametag, of course, but as a new person in a strange town it was nice to hear the sound of my name.

After a number of visits, an usher asked me if I could help:  to hand out the order of service, and receive the offering.  A simple thing.  But let me tell you, the first few times I walked the offering basket up and down the aisle, I felt as self-conscious as if I’d been singing a solo or giving the sermon.  It was a small step, but I was exercising my wings.

The result?  I began to learn that I could stand up in front of a group of people I didn’t know… and survive.  And of course I would get quite used to standing in front of church people.  It started in that congregation.   One more thing:  I felt useful, I sensed more ownership of the place.  I started to grow roots.

Looking back, I find it odd that they asked me only to be an usher, but never to serve the coffee.  Was it easier to trust a newcomer with collecting money than the making coffee?  I don’t know, but I suspect all we had back then was instant coffee, anyway.  After all, it was 1985 in the Midwest.  The trend of really good, brewed coffee had not yet begun.

Also back in the 1980s, coming out as a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person was more daunting and lonely than it may be now for a lot of people.  I had begun edging out of my own closet three years before, mostly to myself and my friends in college.  I had little practice speaking my truth in other settings.  Here I was, in a conservative city in a new job, and in a new church, in 1985.  But in truth, most of the barriers were in my own mind, most of the fears in my own heart.  I needed practice at being myself and feeling accepted.  Our church had a series of Sunday morning discussions–a small circle of chairs bringing together all those who showed up on a given day for a given topic.

One Sunday a lesbian therapist from the church led a talk about homophobia.  I found myself contributing to the conversation among these new people in a way I had not experienced before.   I used the words “we” and “us” when speaking about LGBT people, rather than keeping my words at a safe, academic distance.  Nobody shuddered; the walls did not fall in.

In that circle of kind people, I stretched my wings and hopped out of my nest of self-silencing.  It was a subtle change, but also part of a lifelong transformation into a happier human being.  Some time later, I began working on a committee, and became friends with a shy middle-aged woman.  She spoke to the group about her brother who had died, but spoke only vaguely.  Later she told me that he had contracted HIV, which was nearly always terminal back then.  Having been married, he had remained in the closet through death, and the family was holding this great secret, adding to the grief of their loss of him.  Yet for his sister, the burden lifted a bit when she spoke to me, because I had opened up.  Thanks to that church, she and I both grew stronger wings.  We both poked our heads out of the nest of our own fears and vulnerabilities.

A year later the Religious Education Committee asked me to teach Sunday school.  First and second graders.  Who, me?  I had barely seen a first grader in years, let alone try to have a conversation with one of them.

Did that committee see the potential in me?  Who knows–they merely might have been desperate.  Of course, desperate was how I felt.  Yet I had a co-teacher – a dad in the church.  He was easy going and reliable.  We had a book of lessons to guide us.  Some props required, but the lessons were planned.  We would talk every week in advance of Sunday:  who was leading what, who should bring what.  I survived that year, and so did they.  I learned things, and left with fond memories.

Not all congregations help everyone spread their spiritual wings, of course.   Especially when it comes to religious ideas and personal expressions of spirituality.  Some discourage the stretching of wings.

On the other hand, there are plenty of ways beyond a congregation to stretch your wings in 21st century North America:  hobbies, sports and cultural organizations, book clubs, Yoga studios, personal trainers, community colleges, website courses.  But here in a congregation you may wander into a way to spread your wings that you had not been looking for.   Rather than doing a methodical review of opportunities on local websites, and finding an opportunity that you choose, in a community like this one, in a congregation, the opportunity may find you.

You may grow in a way you were not seeking to grow.   Learn lessons you were not looking for.  A benefit of a larger congregation like ours is that we have diverse ways to participate, many opportunities to learn, grow, try out new things, serve, and help out.  You can get involved here in one activity for a while, and if later you feel ready to try something else, we’ll try to help you do that.

Outside of a congregation, if you drop out of a book club, you may not see the people again.  If you give up Yoga class, you may lose your Yoga classmates.  In a congregation, you might slip out of an activity, but you are still part of the community.  You have roots!

Even better, you can use one commitment in order to decline another.  I’m sorry, I can’t install paving stones in the labyrinth next Saturday out in the hot sun with you.  I’m co-leading a workshop at the UU church in Davis, which by chance is indoors in the air conditioning.  Sorry!

[In truth, the Labyrinth is in a well-shaded area here.]

For some folks, the opportunity for growth provided by the church could be… just sitting in one place for an hour.  For others, the stretching of wings could be the invitation to rise to your feet and sing with a room full of people.  Or to greet a few others and say, “Glad to meet you.”   Even if you don’t know for sure that you’re glad about it, you do know it feels good to be greeted, so you decide you will reach out.

In this place, we can watch one another stretch and reach and spread our wings.  We can encourage one another.  If we stumble or flop, we can catch one another.  If we are the ones flopping or falling, we might feel others easing us down to a soft landing.

And while all this is going on—the stretching of wings and the efforts at flight—something else happens.   We get rooted!  As we encourage others and receive encouragement, as we strengthen the wings, we deepen the roots.  We ground ourselves.  Roots grow as we add to our life story by the moments we spend with others.  At a shared meal, we nourish the roots, not only by the food, but also by the fellowship aroundthe food.

Roots grow as we let ourselves be known.

Most of us, I hope, begin to realize that we belong.  We experience a deeper sense of connection and rootedness, not only to a community, but to Life and the spirit and the whole human family.  As we stretch our wings, we deepen the roots of belonging to Life.

The presence of others makes a difference.  All those with whom we invest our time and our gifts can support the roots as we dig deep into life.  And we can do that for others.  You can do that.  Your smile, kind word, outstretched hand, your voice lifted in word and song, can do that.

On this Ingathering Sunday, I ask you to remember that your presence matters to others around you.  Even to those you have not yet met.

We come together to receive encouragement for ourselves, but by showing up, we also extend encouragement to others.  Just by coming together, you help others to dig deep roots into life and stretch out the wings of the spirit.   What a blessing it can be, when we come together.

So may it be.   Blessed be, amen, and Namaste.

Shared Offering

This congregation has a tradition of giving away half of every Sunday morning offering to an organization doing good work in the larger community beyond these walls.   For this month, the month of August, we share the offering with Sacramento Family Promise.  This is a program of hospitality and support services to homeless families with children, including school for the children and assistance in finding employment, stable housing and self-sufficiency for the parents.  Several families will be staying overnight with us in our church buildings for a week starting next Sunday night.

Your generosity today will keep this important program thriving and successful.  Thank you for making a difference.  The shared offering will now be given and received.

Offertory                                                       Cancion y Danza No. 1

–                                                                              -Frederic Mompou

Roll Call and Water Communion Ceremony—Rev. Roger

See separate attachment

           In a congregation of our size, transitions are always taking place, even in years when we don’t have a construction project in the works.

In addition to the good news of Lucy’s joining our ministry here, we also have the sadder news that Eric  has announced his resignation from the position of Music Director.   He’s held this job since 2011.  Last week he wrote to our Board and staff members, and his letter to the congregation will appear in the Unigram.   Next Sunday will be Eric’s goodbye service with us—one service at 10 o’clock.  The Music Committee is planning a farewell for him after that service, with cake.  Please come.  Also, if you would like to contribute money toward a gift, you can see Judy  today after the service.  Next week, we will honor and thank him, and I bet he will sing to us.

Other transitions in the life of our congregation, every year, include the passing of a number of members and friends, and family members of congregants.

You will find an insert in your order of service entitled In Loving Memory.  This is our roll call of those who have died since last year’s Ingathering Service.  If you think of a name that should be added, or if you have in mind others who died in years prior to the last one, we will take a moment after the roll call.  As we conclude, our Board President will pour into this empty vessel some of the water that has been collected from Ingathering Rituals in years past.  This jar includes the waters brought here by people we have known and lost over the years. And after today it will be mingled with the waters that you will pour into the vessel in a few moments.

Now please join with me in saying these names one at a time, with a brief pause to hear each name in our heart.

[Unison speaking of the Roll Call.]

At this time, if you are holding in your heart other loved ones who have died, we will take a few moments to hear the sounds of their names spoken into the space of our sanctuary.  [PAUSE.]  May their memory be a blessing.

[President Linda  pours about half of the tall jar into the cylinder.]

Water Communion Ritual—Rev. Roger

If you have brought a small container of water, this is the time when we will mingle the waters together.  Whether you are bringing or just remembering waters from oceans visited, glaciers, lakes, local rivers, or a local tap, you are invited to mingle the waters.

If you didn’t know about this ritual, forgot, or didn’t read the newsletter, there are containers of water up here for your use.  Please line up on both sides, and when it is your turn, use the microphone, alternating between right and left sides, and speaking loudly.  You may say “This water is from _________” or “This water represents ______.”

At the end I will say a blessing.

*Hymn   There’s a River Flowin’ in My Soul, and It’s Tellin’ Me that I’m Somebody

-Rose Sanders, arr. Kenny Smith

Led by Rev. Lucy

[words are at #1007 but we didn’t use the hymn supplement book]

*Benediction


           If you are comfortable, please join hands or just be with us for this Benediction.  At the end, you may be seated for the Postlude, or you may come back to the Lobby.

In the days to come, take the time to consider when and how you are deepening your own roots and your own sense of belonging to life and to community.

Consider opportunities to stretch yourself and try your wings.   And remember that your presence makes a difference.  Your presence can help others to find a place to put down roots, and can help us all to try our wings.

As you go out beyond these walls, may you see blessings around you, and may you know that you bring a blessing into this world we share.

Postlude                                             Prelude in c-minor WTC vol. 1
-J. S. Bach