Monday, April 1, 2013

I Know This Rose Will Open

Easter Service - 2013

Recorded Sermon at this LINK

Our Reading this morning is from Hebrew Scriptures ---- Isaiah 35; verses 1 - 7
The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.
It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing: the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the LORD, and the excellency of our God.
Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees.
Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you.
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.
And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water: in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes.
And again – from verse one:  The desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.

Sermon:  I know this Rose Will Open

Last week in our small Religious Education Room, I met with three women and one young man about a special fundraising project.  The women are members of a small African American traditional Christian church and the young man is a gospel singer and promotes gospel groups – as well as a funeral home director.  They are hoping to raise funds to assist the grandmother (Ms. Jessie) who continues to care for her severely physically disabled grandson KK.   KK is now in his mid 20’s and has needed her help to even breathe and eat since being injured in an accident when he was just 18 months old.  Initially, we were thinking that we could host a fundraiser here in our building; but determined it was too small for the gospel concert they were planning.  We can still help them; but hopefully they can get the Episcopal Church to host the concert.

I told them about our plans to renovate a building that we had acquired and have a bigger space so that we could perhaps host some concerts like this in the future.  And I shared with them our plans for a yard sale.  I said, “I THINK WE CAN raise some money to help us with the renovation.” 

And one of the women – said, “No – don’t say – I think we can….    Claim it.” 

And I understood --- and said, “We WILL raise money at our yard sale and we WILL renovate that building.”   

As most of you know, I was not born with the gift of unwavering faith in the unseen, the unknowable, or the supernatural.  I’m one of those folks who questions, who doubts, who asks for evidence.  Yet – I also know that there IS evidence in the power of what this woman was saying I should do.  Now I know from other things she said, that she is basing her idea of “Claiming it” on biblical principles and faith that God in heaven will hear you and answer your prayers.  I’m more inclined to think in more naturalistic terms.  Yet, it’s true that if we face a task with a positive outlook, we are more likely to achieve it than if we face it pessimistically. 

There have been loads of books written on this –of course.  Norman Vincent Peal wrote a whole series of “Positive Thinking” bestsellers.  And the most recent bestseller that promotes this idea is “The Secret,” – a book written by Rhonda Byrne and promoted by the Grand Goddess of television, Oprah Winfrey. 

The tenet of “The Secret” is that the universe is governed by a natural law called the law of attraction which is said to work by attracting into a person's life the experiences, situations, events, and people that "match the frequency" of the person's thoughts and feelings. Therefore, positive thinking and feeling positive are claimed to create life-changing results such as increased wealth, health, and happiness.  Sounds good!

The book has rightfully been criticized for some pretty outlandish claims within it.  For example Byrne claims that natural disasters strike people on the same wave length with them – implying that victims of tornados and tsunamis brought the disaster down on themselves.   Plus the book is criticized by former believers for giving them false hopes and causing them to blame themselves if things did not go well --- you know – ”maybe I wasn’t thinking positively enough.”

Now this is not to say that those criticizing these books and optimistic philosophies promote negative thinking instead.   They just think that our positive thinking needs a good dose of realism.  And I agree.

I personally lift up Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer ---- asking for the Serenity to Accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can, and….the wisdom to know the difference.  Amen.

But this is not the Sunday for pessimistic thinking anyway!  Today is Easter Sunday!  Hallelujah!  A time for celebrating rebirth, resurrection, renewal, new life, the blooming of flowers and the return of the green grass and of course pollen --- oh well, it can all be swell!  Thank goodness we’ve had some nice cleansing rains! And how we have loved watching those rains lift the waters of our creeks, and rivers, and ponds after so much drought. 

And that brings me to the desert that Isaiah speaks of in the passage we read earlier.  The chapter is a celebration of spiritual springtime --- where “the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.”

What I didn’t read to you was the preceding chapter --- where he did what bold prophets of old often did and named it like he saw it – nation fighting against nation; people stealing, pillaging, leaving people homeless and suffering.  These prophets like Isaiah stood up to the powerful and let them know that their days were numbered; that the righteous would reign in a peaceful land.  And you know, that’s what I join many of you in doing --- sharing a prophetic liberal religious voice for peace and justice here in Statesboro.  And sharing HARD news when we think folks have moved away from loving principles.  Of course, sometimes I do feel like it’s a voice crying in the wilderness.   That’s why I love this congregation.  You feel my tank up with spiritual energy that keeps me going.

Well, the prophet Isaiah was sharing all of this hard news with the Israelites --- but he didn’t end the story with the sorrow.  He told about the rains that would come, and the sweet peacefulness and lovely  blossoming turning that desert of despair into a joyful paradise.

Sometimes we wonder if it can really happen in our lives  and in this world when we read the news.  UU minister Barbara Hamilton Holloway notes the difficulty in envisioning the rose blooming.  She says,  “What about when we are grumpy and shut down and let down, worrying and wintry.  There are wintry places, dry dessert places in the soul.”  Mary Grigola’s song that we sang claims that “I know my soul will unfurl its wings.”  But sometimes, we feel that our wings are clipped.  When we are sad and depressed, it’s hard to feel hopeful.  Yet we also know --- that we often cannot appreciate the rainfall, till there is a drought.  And though it’s a cliché, it’s profoundly true that it’s often darkest before the dawn.  The dawn will come though.  It will come – at least for us personally.  But what about for this world.  Hamilton-Holloway asks these questions (and I’m paraphrasing):

What are the chances of the whole world blooming? 

Will there be a thriving planet some day; where no one is shut out?   

Where no one has to produce papers to prove their equality?

Will a time come when it won’t matter who you love?

Will someday people’s opportunities really be equal?

Will a time come when we don’t covet our neighbor’s land, our neighbor’s oil?

And I add my own questions to these.

Will a time come when we really put down our weapons --- individually and as nations?

Will a time come when we close prisons and open schools?

Will the planet and life itself really become sustainable?

Can we find contentment in simplicity and in love with our fellow earth inhabitants?

So much seems out of balance.

Isaiah prophesied a revolution where ALL will be changed.  I don’t know that I can “Claim it” like he did.  I don’t see the evidence that it will ALL change.  I believe that our efforts for peace and justice will always be somewhat of a struggle.  And you know – that’s okay with me.  The struggle that I have in one activity keeps me stronger for the next one. 
And there will be next ones!

But I do think our culture is changing because of our struggles – because of our optimism, because of our courage to change the things that we can.  Yes, there are places where the desert can rejoice – and blossoms like a rose.  And we should celebrate that today.  Today is a Sunday for saying “Hallelujah” – and we can proclaim it for many things.  For example ----

For this beautiful day, we can say “Hallelujah.”

For the sounds we hear of joyful children, we can say “Hallelujah.”

For our congregation’s commitment to Feeding Statesboro and our growing partnership with Magnolia Baptist church in this effort, we can say “Hallelujah.”

For our successful yard sale,  -- raising a total of $1,166  we can say “Hallelujah.”

For friends in our community like Dr. Michael Braz, who may not be part of this congregation, but who support our efforts with their talent and time, we can say “Hallelujah.”

For the glorious news we’ve heard this week that our Supreme Court may really “do justice” in their growing recognition that same sex couples deserve equal rights, we can say “Hallelujah.”

For Good news on Good Friday – that the Gundamentalists failed in their efforts to get our State Legislature to pass laws permitting guns on our campuses, and in churches and bars, we can say “Hallelujah.”

AND --for this spiritual home of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Statesboro, where we are all welcome to come as the real people we are --- not checking our brains or our hearts at the door, learning, growing, and serving together; we can all shout “Hallelujah.”

Yes – I KNOW this rose will open, I KNOW my fears will burn away, I KNOW my soul WILL unfurl its wings; I KNOW this rose will open.    And to the opening of this rose, and our hearts, minds, and souls, to that Divine Love present today in this room, we can all SING: 

(Sing)   “Hallelujah,  Hallelujah  ---- Hal – le ---lu--- jah!”

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