Entrance music – Selection of reflective music
We enter into this time and this place to join our hearts and minds together.
We come to this place: the doors open, the heat comes on, biscuits are laid, the water heats, and you all come.
What is it that we come here seeking? Many things, too many to mention them all.
Yet, it is likely that some common longings draw us to be with one another.
To remember what is most important in life.
To be challenged to live more truly, more deeply, to live with integrity and kindness and with hope and love.
To feel the company of those who seek a common path.
To be renewed in our faith in the promise of this life.
To be strengthened and to find the courage to continue to do what we must do, day after day, world without end.
Some words there from Linda Hart.
Good morning, everyone. I’d like to extend to you all the very warmest of welcomes as we gather here this Sunday in our humble little chapel. Welcome to this space. Welcome to this space of reflection. Welcome to this space of contemplation. Welcome to this space of humility. Welcome to this space of vulnerability. As you walked through the doors this morning, you entered a sanctuary. A sanctuary where you are safe to be yourself. A sanctuary where, no matter what joys or sorrows you brought with you, the warmth of our welcome remains constant.
Welcome to those familiar faces, and to those new faces, and to those who cannot be with us here this morning but are with us in our thoughts. Welcome to your feelings of happiness and hope. Welcome to your worries, concerns, and anxieties. No matter who you are, no matter where you come from, no matter what you believe, no matter what accompanies you this morning: you are welcome.
As is customary to our denomination of Unitarianism, I would like to light the flame of our chalice, the symbol of our movement. And as I do, and as we all gaze upon the flickering flame, some words from Peter Teets:
May the light that we now kindle
Inspire us to use our powers
To heal and not to harm
To help and not to hinder
To bless and not to curse
To uphold the Spirit of Freedom.
So, again, I’d like to wish you a good morning as we gather here on this February morning. And, as we begin our time together, I’d like to invite you to just take a moment to sit in your chairs and relax. Take a deep breath and notice the movement of your chest as you inhale, and then gently exhale. Focus on the sensations you feel as the air passes through your nose, and then out again through your mouth. Feel the contact your body is making with the chair under you. Take note of the slight imperfections in the cushioning, or the wonky legs that mean you find yourself rocking slightly, from back to front. Listen. Listen to sound of the traffic going by outside, as people live their lives. Listen to the voices of people walking past. Listen, if you can, to the seagulls. Just take 30 seconds of quiet to think about what brought you here this morning. And if you’d like to, I invite you to use the post-it note on your seat, to write down your thoughts as to why you find yourself here this morning, and what you hope to get from attending these services on a Sunday. Perhaps it is to connect with something greater; perhaps it is to take some time away from your busy life. Whatever it is, feel the welcome of this space as it embraces you in its warmth. And at the end of the service, if you’d like to pop your post-it on the whiteboard at the front, you’re welcome to do so.
Now, in your own time, bring yourself back into the room.
I would like to invite you to listen to, or join in with if you wish, our first hymn of the day, number 146 in your purple hymn book: Speaking Truth in Love.
Hymn 1 – Purple Book 146
I wonder if anyone has caught onto what the theme of this morning’s service is yet.
Well, as it’s just recently been Valentine’s Day, I thought what more appropriate theme to discuss than love. But, as the story I’m about to read demonstrates, I’m not just talking about the romantic kind of love. I want to build on what we heard last week in Jess’s service and talk today about love as the means for real and meaningful change, both for us as humans and more widely across our world. Our story today comes from the Book of Luke from the Christian New Testament, Chapter 10, verses 25 through 37.
The Good Samaritan – Luke 10: 25-37 (NT Oxford Study Bible)
Now, if you’d like to join me for our second hymn of the morning, or again, you may just sit and listen to the music and words if you wish. It’s number 195 in your purple books: We Sing A Love.
Hymn 2 – Purple Book 195
As Jess said in her service last week, we hear a lot about this thing called love around this time of the year. We hear songs about it; we watch films about it; we attend church services about it. In last week’s service, we were asked to think about it what it was, or what it meant: to love. We thought about all the different things it could be to each one of us, through the beautiful story we were read about the boy on his journey to find the answers. And, as much as it is true that for each one of us, love can manifest itself in different ways, I believe that there is one kind of love that transcends all philosophy. The love of Jesus in the Gospel; the love of his story of the Good Samaritan; the love of our fellow human beings; the love of agape.
Agape is a Greek word used to refer to God’s love of humanity, and, along with three other Greek words, is one of the types of love we humans experience. The others being eros, the romantic love between two people; philia, the love between friends; and storge, the love between families.
The concept of agape finds its home in the New Testament, and is, I think, perfectly demonstrated in the parable of the Good Samaritan. To put the story into some historical context, Samaritans were not looked upon favourably by the Jews of First Century Israel. Typically speaking, a Samaritan would not have stopped to help a Jew unless there was something in it for them. You might even suggest that, in the case of the parable, any other person would have walked on by and relished somewhat in the victim’s misery. But what stands our Samaritan out from everyone else is their desire to stop and to help. Not for any reward or recognition, but because of the mere fact that they saw another human being in need. Their love of their fellow human being trumped everything else, and in that moment, they acted selflessly to help.
Although agape originally refers to God’s love of humanity, it is not exclusive to God. Each and every one of us can embody and practise agape, if indeed that is the correct turn of phrase to use. I firmly believe that it was this lesson, and this one alone that is the greatest and most important one of Jesus’s ministry. In fact, when asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus answered by telling those gathered that they should love God, but more importantly, they should love their neighbour as themselves.
What do you suppose he meant by that?
Here’s what I think. When Jesus says “neighbour”, he’s clearly not just referring to the people who live next door. He’s referring to each and every one of us. Our neighbours by evolution, if you will. The people with whom we share so much of our existential experience. And what did he mean when he said to love them as we love ourselves? Well, thankfully, Jesus had probably anticipated that question too, as he said in the Book of Luke Chapter 6 verse 31: “Do unto others as you would have done unto you”.
“So…so what? What’s the point of all this agape love stuff? What does it get me? After all, some people are really difficult to love.” You might be thinking. Well, yes. It can be difficult to love every single person you come across. I know personally, there are quite a few people that I really struggle to be in the same room with, let alone love. But that’s not really what it’s about or what it means. You can still love somebody you dislike. You can treat them with respect. You can not go out of your way to make their lives more difficult. You can offer them help and support should they ever need it.
Think of the overall message of Jesus’s life. What was the main thing he was trying to hammer home to those who listened to him? It was to encourage them to live their lives by his example. That’s what Christians do: they live by Jesus’s example, of loving God (if that makes sense for them), and loving their neighbour as themselves. “But, Clarke, you still haven’t told us why…” I’m getting to that bit.
Imagine this: a world where every single human loves each other and treats them with same respect and dignity as they would like themselves to be treated with. Where would we be? Imagine a world where the violent dictator loved the people of his nation and his neighbours, as much as he loved himself. Imagine a world where a government loved all of its subjects enough as its own self interests. Imagine a world where a would-be abusive husband loved his wife and children as much as he loved himself. Imagine a world where nations around the world loved the peoples of other countries as much as they loved their own. Imagine a world where people treated nature with the utmost respect and dignity.
No more suffering the injustices of bullying or unkindness. No more rogue nations where the rights of her citizens are brutally and violently squeezed out of existence. No more warmongers seeking to take land that does not belong to them. No more child poverty, foodbanks or public sector workers crying out for the fair pay they deserve as reward for keeping their country going. No more horrific stories of child abuse or violence against women and girls. No more need for international aid and charity concerts, as the world comes together to sort out famine and drought once and for all. No more delicate ecosystems being eradicated for the furtherment of capitalist ambitions.
A world filled with peace. A world that shares. A world that cares. A world that can breathe.
What does that world sound like to you? To me, that sounds like Heaven.
You see, my friends, I would argue that agape love is the pathway to human transformation, both for us sociologically and metaphysically, but also for our delicate planet. We throw around words like “heaven” and “divine” as though they are unknowable or abstract concepts. But they’re not. They’re here. They’re of this world. We all just need to work harder to get there.
And it’s not just Jesus in the New Testament or followers of his teachings that have cottoned onto this idea of love as being the pathway to some sort of enlightenment or higher form of existence. I’m thinking about the concept of samsara in the eastern traditions of Buddhism and Hinduism. In eastern philosophy, simply put, samsara is the endless cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth, that all humans experience. The ultimate goal is to break that cycle and achieve Nirvana, which, in Judeo-Christian terms, can be likened to Heaven. But it’s more than just the traditional idea of a place where people go after they die. Nirvana is a state of being; a higher and more enlightened form of existence. And how does one achieve Nirvana? By earning positive Karma. Now, I’m not suggesting that Karma is a like a Tesco ClubCard or a Costa Rewards Card, whereby you can exchange a certain amount of points for Nirvana. But the idea of Karma is rooted in the belief that positive actions have positive consequences. Positive actions, such as loving each human and nature, and treating them with equal respect, lead to a higher state of existence.
Let us not forget that both Hinduism and Buddhism predate Christianity by thousands of years, so it’s entirely possible that Jesus caught wind of these ideas and put his own little spin on them.
But you don’t have to be a person of faith to help create heaven on earth. You just have to love openly, honestly, and truthfully. You just have to treat each and every single human being with love and respect, even when it feels impossible; even when you don’t understand them; even if they have wronged you in the past. As the Samaritan in our story, by lifting others from the ground when they are down, we also lift ourselves.
As John wrote: all you need is love.
Before we spend some quiet time reflecting on whatever it is you yourself would like to reflect on this morning, as is customary for our church, I’d like to invite you to light a candle, or as is common for our congregation, candles, for any hopes, joys, thanks or concerns you may have. You may wish to vocalise your thoughts as you light your candles, but as always, you are more than welcome to light them in silence. There is also no obligation to light a candle at all. Instead, you may use this time to pray, meditate or reflect in your own space.
Candles of hopes, joys and concerns
Let us take some time to reflect and gather our thoughts. You may wish to listen to the music, or you may wish to let your mind wander. You might want to think about those special moments in your lives that we’ve been talking about this morning, or, as I often find myself doing, you might be planning what’s for tea tonight, and how long it’s going to take you to battle through that mountain of ironing that simply won’t do itself.
Music for Reflection – Agape by Voyage Control
If we feel like it, if
we’re not in too much pain
or under threat, or ground
down by poverty and heat,
or flooded with water and
despair, let us tell each
other not in so many words
that we’re alive, and glad to be,
that in fact despite the nonsense
we’ve absorbed, we know
deep down that humans
are humans, period. That
all need help and can help,
and that the time has come
to evolve a little more,
to grow up collectively
and grow out into another,
better, phase of humanity.
A poem there by Hans Ostrom.
I really love the line there towards the end: “to evolve a little more, and grow out into another, better phase of humanity”.
I’ve spoken this morning about how agape love could lead to a better world for all of us. Now, I’m not suggesting that each of us here this morning could single-handedly end war and bring about global peace. What I’m suggesting is that, if each of us takes the time and makes the effort to love a little more, it will have much further-reaching consequences than we could ever know. All great things start with the smallest of actions; the biggest waves start as the smallest ripple. That random act of kindness you did for the person at the supermarket; the directions you gave to the stranger who seemed lost making their way from the train station; the ear you lent a friend when they needed it most. By showing others love, we can have a positive effect on their lives. We can uplift them and inspire them too, to act with love and kindness in their hearts. And so, they go on to spread the love, and so it snowballs until one day, to use Buddhist terminology, we break Dhukka, the state of suffering that is believed to be the true nature of existence, we break samsara, and we achieve Nirvana. Not just for us, but for every living thing in this world.
Let us pray, reflect, or meditate together.
Father. Mother. Creator. World. Me and you. In this world of ours so often overshadowed by hate and anger, may we find the strength the love. May we find the bravery to speak truth in a sea of lies, to call for justice wherever we see injustice, to call for peace wherever we witness conflict. May we embody the example set by Jesus of Nazareth, and so many others, to love our fellow humans as fully and truly as we love ourselves. May we hold onto the knowledge that it is through love we will achieve enlightenment and our world will be renewed and refreshed. So, in the times when it feels impossible to love, may we seek out the flicker of the flame that is our unconditional love for our fellow earth dwellers. May we help others learn this truth and share our knowledge, so that we may one day, enjoy a world overcome with love, respect and peace.
Before we sing our final hymn of the morning, there’s just a couple of notices to go through.
Next Saturday (25th February) is the Safeguarding Course
Next Sunday’s service will be led by Chris Carr
Next bingo night is on Frday 3rd March
Now, I’d like to invite to join in with or listen and follow the words to, our final hymn of the morning. It’s number 178 in your purple hymn books: Together Now We Join As One.
Hymn 3 – Purple Book 178
As always, after the service, please join us for some light refreshments, there’s always an abundance of beige goodies and sweat treats, as well as tea and coffee. Also, if you would like to pop something into our collection tray, any amount will be humbly appreciated. Although, please do not feel obliged to put anything in at all. The donation of your time here this morning is more than enough.
As we come to the end of our time together this morning, let me extinguish our chalice. As its physical form fade, let us keep its light and warmth close inside of us as a constant reminder of what we talked about this morning: that love is all we need, and heaven can be a place on earth. Someone could definitely write songs about that.
Extinguishing of the chalice
And we will, as is the tradition of our congregation here, finish our service with the words of God Be In My Head. And if you wish, you may substitute the word God, for love, or another word that you feel is more appropriate for you:
God (Love) be in my head,
And in my understanding;
God (Love) be in mine eyes,
And in my looking;
God (Love) be in my mouth,
And in my speaking;
God (Love) be in my heart,
And in my thinking;
God (Love) be at mine end,
And at my departing.
Exit music – All You Need Is Love by The Beatles