Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Season for the Reason - meditation, affirmation & sermon

Excerpts from the Coming of the Light service
First Parish Church, Fitchburg, MA 
December 28, 2014 

I. Meditation - Fanning the Light Within
II. End of Meditation Prayer 
III. Affirmation
IV. Sermon - The Season for the Reason 
V. Prayer

I. Meditation - Fanning the Light Within
Focus, if you will, on a lit candle before you.  See the flame, flickering and flowing upward from the wick.  Keep your eyes there and watch it closely for a moment as it glows...

Sometimes we feel lost at sea.  Sometimes we feel adrift and unknowing, alone and seemingly unloved.  We are like darkened lighthouses, unlit and untended, a steeple with no light, saving no one and nothing.  Guiding no one from the danger of the rocks, shepherding nothing into the harboring safety of community.  

But in this next moment, close your eyes and see behind your closed lids the small flame still floating before you.  This is your flame, your fire, your own divine spark.  In your mind's eye, gently fan the flame.  In your imagination, begin to slowly blow on it; don't let it go out, but grow in intensity and heat.  The fire grows steadily.  A match worth of flame at first, growing into a torch, and then a comforting campfire.  Feel the flame become a raging bonfire.  Bask in the warmth of it.  Hot, but not scorching.  Feel the penetrating heat sink into your face, into your skin, into your heart.  This is the fire within you.  Your fire.  Your divine spark, glowing and building and consuming all the fear, all the the negativity, the anger, the rage.  The fire consumes it all.  Leaving behind only the indestructible towering essence of the real you.  The lighthouse.  Ablaze with guiding light and nurturing comfort.  Aflame with a fire that does not consume, but inspires.  

II. End of Meditation Prayer (following a period of meditation)
May I know the light, my own divine spark, that glows within me.  May that sacred fire burn ever more brightly as I become a lighthouse to others.  And to myself.  Amen.

III. Affirmation
I am a part of this spinning Earth.
I am a part of the expanding heavens.
From these two things, and one thing more,
am I divinely made.
I am fire.
I am flame.
I am wisdom.
I am strength.
I am hope.
I am teacher.
I am student.
I am growth.
I am light.
I am light.
I am light.
Blessed be.

IV. Sermon - The Season for the Reason
The amount of daylight today is 26 seconds longer than yesterday.  Tomorrow we get to keep those 26 seconds of today's additional light and then add an extra 31 seconds on top of that.  35 seconds the next, 39 the next.  Not only are the days getting longer, they are getting exponentially longer every day.  The light is snowballing.  The longest night has passed.  The literal and symbolic darkness has lost its ground.  Remember, darkness has no substance.  No wave form.  The smallest amount of light will banish the deepest dark.

So, today, let's celebrate a win.  Let's breathe a sigh of relief that our days are, bit by incremental bit, getting longer, warmer, more productive, more illuminated, more abundant, more alive.  More enlightened.

Welcome to the season of the return of the light.

At this time of year, not coincidentally, we celebrate the birth of one of our great prophets, Jesus of Nazareth.  Considered to be the living embodiment of the Christ energy.  The incarnation of God Itself.  Of light itself.  A savior of humankind.  The great reconciler of humanity and God.

But these statements sound like so much poetry, mythology and fable.  We struggle deeply with them and try to wrest ourselves from their cultural grasp.  But they represent something that is far more tangible than we realize.  Many of us are here in a Unitarian Universalist church because we feel an inherent distrust of words like these: savior, son of God, Father.  So often have they been used to harm and to hurt; even kill.  All in the name of a god and son who are supposed to be about love and light, not abuse, not judgement, hatred, death.  We witness grave injustices committed on behalf of ideas like these.  Jesus Christ, protect me from some of your followers!

As many of us know, Jesus wasn’t actually born in December, but Christianity has placed the celebration of the birth of Jesus at this time of growing light for a reason.  A largely pagan reason, in fact, from which it then promptly distanced itself, and with venom.  The old earth religions make a great annual observation of the return of the light, the return of hope.  The Winter Solstice, Yule, and the birth celebrations of Ra, Cronos, Lugh, Mithra, and Odin among others.  All of these are celebrations at this time of year celebrating the birth of a god.  The coming of a light.  The conquering of darkness is at hand.  May all rejoice. A savior has come.

There are many and varied suggestions for when Jesus might have actually been born.  In the year 2 BCE, on June 17, the planets Venus and Jupiter were in extremely close conjunction, crafting together in the eastern sky what appeared to be a single, great star.  Venus and Jupiter.  Interesting to note, the planet Jupiter was named for the principal Roman god, Jupiter, "whose name comes from the Proto-Indo-European "Dyēu-pətēr," (die-ay-you-pe-teer) meaning "O Father Sky-God.  And Venus is the name of the Roman goddess of love.  So a celestial conjunction of the Father Sky-God and the goddess of Love might have heralded the birth of a divine teacher of peace.  Fascinating to ponder.  Another potential birthdate comes from a similar conjunction on October 9 years earlier of Jupiter and Saturn, not Venus.  However, considering the Biblical reference to the shepherds who were watching their flocks that night, it was more likely in the spring or early summer, rather than October or December, which supports the June 17th date.  So, perhaps Christmas in July isn’t as strange as we’d like to think.

Most of the feast days in the religious calendar are not placed according to the actual births of their subjects.  Placing the celebration of the birth of Jesus at this time of the year was a relative no-brainer.  It was highly necessary, in fact.  In the fourth century, Christianity had a lot of competition.  One thing it didn’t have was a big festive celebration of the birth of its god.  If it was going to compete it needed a birth-of-God celebration of its own or get lost in the more “colorful” seasonal attractions of the other religions.  And by colorful I’m sure you can guess what I might mean.  It was a convenient conversion method, having their very own god called, among other things, the Light of the World.  Come on over to Christianity!  It's just like your old religion, but new and improved!  And in many ways, it was a new and improved thing.

Now, it is claimed by many that Unitarians do not believe in the divinity of Christ.  I don’t necessarily agree with that.  Some do and some don’t.  They say that by not holding up the Trinity as the 3-fold identity of God it precludes an acceptance of Jesus’s divinity.  That unless we agree it’s the Father, Son and Holy Ghost at work here, Jesus has no divinity.  And without his divinity, he’s just some radical hippy from the first century upsetting the apple cart.  But I don’t see any reason why we should not consider Jesus to have been divine.  If you believe the tradition, his humanity was a creation of God’s just like ours all.  And in that spirit our divine spark holds even greater significance for what it may have in common with the divinity of Jesus, our teacher.

Let’s ask a dumb question.  Why do we choose to celebrate his birth?  What did he ever do for me?  Or maybe it’s just because we get a day off and we like presents.  Or maybe we feel herded into celebrating it.  Forced to buy things for people and toast and smile and wear ugly sweaters and eat and eat and eat.  Compelled by our culture to either make merry or feel guilty.  That’s no fun.  So let’s not say that we all celebrate the birth of a master here.  For we don’t all.

But the celebration exists.  An opportunity to reflect on what he taught us during his life exists.  We unpack the tradition of every holiday throughout the year and examine each one as part of our traditions almost every time we celebrate it.  Usually it’s without realizing it.  We celebrate Memorial Day and we hold parades to honor those who have lost their lives in service to our country.  That parade is the unpacking of the meaning of our day of observance for our veterans.  The point of the holiday, of any holiday, is to observe.  Sometimes with honor, sometimes with joy.  Sometimes with both.  When we examine Christmas as a festival it’s an opportunity for giving thanks for the extra bit of light that Jesus brought into this world.  I am thankful for the lesson of Forgiveness.  I am thankful for the example of how to treat others with justice and compassion without judgement.  I am thankful for his example of advocacy and activism and revolt and for both social as well as spiritual recalibration on this planet.

Today let’s celebrate his light.  Let’s reflect for a bit and take a small amount of time to be grateful for what he taught us.  Let’s for a moment dispense with the garish religious bottle that humanity has been worshipping for 17 centuries and read a bit of the message inside it.  It’s the message that matters.  Not the bottle.  Although the bottle has its significance too, for it carried the message dutifully, protecting well its contents through wars and inquisitions and systematic hatreds of its own making.  All the while carrying a message of peace inside it.  Quite an accomplishment, I think.  And one that may have been a conspiracy, but the conspiracy might have been on them all along.

When we look at the message inside we see that there is only one authority: Love.  All the things that Jesus taught us were ultimately about love.  Love of each other.  Love of ourselves.  And lessons on every manner of pathway to achieving a perfect state of communion with the divine spark in ourselves, in one another, and thereby with God. And by doing it we will realize a wisdom and power that can only result in one thing: Peace on Earth.  Jesus asks us to forgive one another.  Put down our swords.  He asks us to have compassion and exist in a state of welcoming.  He admonishes us to avoid judgement and to end cycles of violence.  And that by doing so, we will eventually see a new kind of world, a new kind of kingdom if you will, that we’ve never seen before.  

If you believe in your own divine spark, then you might believe that spark has a point of origin.  If you believe in that, then you might see how we are all a part of that point of origin, a part of a great central spark.  And if you can see that, then you might just see how in caring for each other, in loving one another, in caring for our world, we honor the spark inside of us as well as its source.  And in connecting with Source we will manifest the New Jerusalem we have been promised for ourselves, by our own free will, and all because we have taken the time to not only see the light inside of us, but bless it. Fan it into being.  Not hide it under a bushel, but reveal it in all its resplendency and warmth.  Like a lighthouse for all to see and gain safe passage by.

Live peacefully.  Walk gently.  Love completely and without fear.  Forgive with dignity and with an awareness of self.  Forgiving does not mean forgetting.  It means letting go of the emotional hold it has on you.  The fact of your trauma can stay, but dissolve the emotional impact it has on you.  Render it present but powerless.  Let what others have done to you hold no power over you anymore.  You have the power to exercise your own demons.  Get them behind you.

You are the light.  You are the lighthouse.  You are the bringer of peace or destruction, the choice is yours.  Do you create?  Do you turn the other cheek?  Do you love your enemies?  That’s a hard one.  Right now I want you to think of someone that really pisses you off.  Close your eyes and picture them.  Their smug face, their hostility, their condescension, their rage.  Remember here you are safe.  They cannot harm you.  You are not alone.  Picture your feelings for them emanating upward like a heat from your body.  Now, take a deep breath. Mentally leave them where they are but turn away from them in your mind for a moment. Breathe in a cool stream.  Another breath.  Breathe in coolness and green and water and calm.  One breath more.  Find a state of peace in spite of the fact that your adversary still stands before you.  Now you may turn back to them in your mind and say to them, out loud after me, Namasté.  Namaste is Sanskrit for the God in me sees and acknowledges the God in you.  Say it again, Namasté. Namasté.  In your mind’s eye see the divine spark in your adversary.  See and acknowledge that, aside from all the grief they have caused you, they are a human being.  They may not be a human being you want to spend time with, but that’s not what’s important.  Simply acknowledge their divine spark for a moment even if begrudgingly.  See it glowing inside them even if their hostile surface would prevent it.  Now take another deep breath and make a wish for them.  Wish them peace.  Wish them comfort.  I challenge you to picture them peaceful and comfortable and happy.  Picture them having nothing to inspire them to harm you anymore.  All their discomfort and inner turmoil has evaporated in a puff.  All their dis-ease is now at rest, it troubles them no more.  Picture them smiling and giving a sigh.  Picture placing a single flower in a vase on the floor in front of them.  A peace offering.  Do this even if, and perhaps especially if, they are completely in the wrong.  Even if they are completely guilty of a horrible crime against you.  Give that flower to them without malice or hatred.  Give it to them in the hope that it will change what exists between you and invite a solution that neither of you has ever thought of before.  Let it be a moment for each, you and your adversary, when your humanity falls away and you each greet one another soul to soul, essence to essence - nothing to get in the way of greeting an old friend playing a dastardly role as a spiritual being having a human experience.  Dig deeply into your core, the core that Jesus taught us about.  Find the love there and use it to heal the world.  Starting with yourself.  You may return now.

Does Jesus save?  Only if you let him.  Was he the Way?  Try it his way, and see.  Do you have a reason to celebrate?  Do you have a reason to look past the commercialism and the coercion and the trappings of the season to see a deeper thought?  Celebrate the coming of the light.

V. Prayer
Dearest God, if you are there, if you do indeed send messengers to help us, we thank you.  If you exist on paper may we read it.  If you exist in the air, may we breathe it.  If you reside in our hearts may we feel it.  And if you walk this earth, may we walk beside you.  Amen.

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