Sunday, April 4, 2010

Wildflowers and Roses

Wildflowers and Roses
A hallmark of Unitarianism has been the rejection miracles within the Christian tradition. I’m sure some of you have heard of the Jefferson Bible. That’s a Bible that Thomas Jefferson created for himself by taking the four gospels and cutting and pasting them back together again expressly for the purpose of removing the miracle stories. Walking on water, turning water into wine, resurrections of the dead, all of those miracles, Thomas Jefferson just cut them out. He wanted a Bible that was about the ethical teachings of the person named Jesus, that stood without magic tricks.

I love that we have such edgy forbearers of our tradition. Two-hundred years ago those thinkers were pushing the envelope in ways unimaginable today. Seriously, think of the furry that would be unleashed if one of our contemporary presidents took a pair of scissors to the Bible to remove the miracle stories… And Thomas Jefferson was just one of many Liberal thinkers that said, we don’t need these stories to enhance our faith. In fact all that flash and dazzle of miracle really distracts from the real essence of what we celebrate. The core of religious life isn’t in miracles but in living a meaningful life, caring for others, and embracing the mysteries that touch us most deeply.

So why Easter? Why are we adorned with floppy hats and flowers and an inordinate amount of pastel this morning in our Unitarian Universalist Fellowship? It’s not to celebrate the most miraculous moment in the Christian Calendar, the resurrection of Christ. We are here to celebrate another miracle.

We celebrate a miracle of human community and hope. In the midst of our diversity and in the face of adversity, we celebrate the miracle of hope and renewal. It doesn’t require magic tricks or bending the laws of nature. In fact, quite the contrary, it’s a simple miracle of Spring. We celebrate Spring and the miracle of hope every year with a flower communion, which will soon participate in all together.

The Unitarian Universalist Flower Communion originated in 1923 with Dr. Norbert Capek, founder of the modem Unitarian movement in Czechoslovakia. On the last Sunday before the summer recess of the Unitarian church in Prague, all the children and adults participated in this colorful ritual, which gives concrete expression to the humanity-affirming principles of our liberal faith.

But hope and renewal don’t come out of the blue. Spring follows winter, liberation follows persecution, resurrection comes only after death. Perhaps the reason that Dr. Capek’s beautiful ritual has taken on so much meaning for us, is that it has survived as a symbol of hope beyond brutal religious oppression.

You see, when the Nazis took control of Prague in 1940, they found Dr. Capek's gospel of the inherent worth and beauty of every human person to be-as Nazi court records show-- "...too dangerous to the Reich [for him] to be allowed to live." For one of our most central principles, for believing in and preaching the inherent worth and dignity of every person, Dr. Capek was sent to Dachau, where he was killed the next year. This gentle man suffered a cruel death, but his message of human hope and decency lives on through his Flower Communion, which is widely celebrated today. It is a noble and meaning-filled ritual we are about to recreate. It’s meaning comes not only from a dazzling arrangement of flowers. It’s meaning comes from what those flowers symbolize. After pain and persecution, after Dachau, a community, our community comes together to celebrate hope. As a part of the flower communion and in our closing words, I’ll share with you some of the hope that he maintained, even in the face of death. Our celebration of Spring in Idyllic Laguna Beach is but a glimmer of the unshakable, life affirming, resurrecting hope that Chapek held in the face of death.

That is the other story of Easter, the story that some theologians want to share. In fact the president of one of the Unitarian Universalist seminaries holds dual ordination as a UU and a UCC minister, Rabecca Parker. She wrote a book called “Proverbs of Ashes” that is a retelling of Christian theology transforming images of violence into images of healing. And in that sense, we join with our Christian brothers and sisters as a community gathers in the midst of grieving. For only a community can transform grief into hope. Only a community can provide the fertile ground for new life to spring again. So we celebrate with our Christian brothers and sisters, the hope that they held for their religious community after their holy man was crucified. Through their tears, they saw hope. Through their pain, they saw a future for their selves and for their community.

But this is no unique story, this story of hope over death, especially in Spring. Just as we celebrate Easter with our Christian brothers and sisters, we also celebrate the hope of Passover with our Jewish brothers and sisters. No it’s not the miracles that Moses performed, or plagues that God spread over Egypt that we celebrate. It isn’t even the passing over of the Jewish households, while all of Egypt’s first born were struck dead in the night that we celebrate as the name Passover suggests. No we celebrate the liberation of a community from it’s oppressor, and the gathering of a community for years to come, for thousands of years to come, to tell their story and hope for a better future for themselves and for all people.

We celebrate a miracle of human community and hope. In the midst of our diversity and in the face of adversity, we celebrate the miracle of hope and renewal. And today we do that with flowers.

I love our flower communion because it taps into something that can be fleeting for us as Unitarian Universalists. It taps into a unifying tradition that is rooted in a historical moment. Keep in mind that we are not just channeling a profound moment of an inspiring religious leader in Prague. We participate in this ritual with other churches across the country and around the world, as we celebrate together.

The other reason that flower communion is so meaningful to me, is because of the diversity of flowers that come together. I have wonderful memories of this day as a child. The anticipation of caring for a fragile flower and bringing it to church. It was also great fun to see what beauties other people would bring to church with them, because everyone brought something different.

That’s what this communion has come to represent to me. Of course, it is hope, the hope of simple miracles. But that hope comes in tremendous diversity as we come together with our unique gifts to share. What better symbol for the hope in a diverse community that an arrangement of different flowers.

What kind of flower are you in this community? What is your special and unique contribution? …

Are you a rose, stately and graceful? Do you bring dignity and presence to this great tradition?

Perhaps you are a wildflower, a Poppy, a Black Eyed Susan ?, unexpected and charming, offering whimsy and delight without a lot of fuss.

Are you a pansy, with defiantly bold color, and surprisingly sturdier than other flowers when the frost comes?

Maybe you are you a Bird of Paradise? You know these flowers are named Bird of Paradise because they resemble a tropical bird in flight. Do you bring the simply gift of freedom and joy?

Or maybe your gifts are spiritual in nature; maybe you are an Iris. The iris’s mythology dates back to Ancient Greece, when the goddess Iris, who personified the rainbow, acted as the link between heaven and earth. It’s said that purple irises were planted over the graves of women to summon the goddess Iris to guide them in their journey to heaven. Do you bring a connection with the sprit to our community?

Fortunately I know we have a handful of sunflowers. While their distinctive and brilliant yellow head makes it easy to see why sunflowers have long held our fascination, when they were first grown in Central and South America, it was more for their usefulness, providing oil and food. That amazing combination of striking beauty and utility is, in part, why sunflowers have appeared as such revered symbols throughout the ages. Are your gifts of the more practical kind? Do you bring utility to this congregation maintaining an old building?

Or perhaps you are a Lotus. In Hindu and Buddhist traditions the Lotus represents spiritual purity, not just because it is white, but because it unfolds layer after layer after layer. Maybe your gift to this community is the personal growth and unfolding layer after layer of yourself to gain a sense of peace and compassion.

There’s one last flower that must be mentioned. I don’t see it around here much, but my childhood was swimming in it, honeysuckle. According to an old superstition, if honeysuckle is taken into a house then a wedding will follow. If a girl places this fragrant flower in her bedroom, she will dream of love, and in France it was given to a loved one to symbolise their union. Do you bring a sense of romance to this community? Are you a romantic, stoking human endeavor and passion for the highest ideals?

What kinds of flower are you? What kind of unique and fragile gift of self do you bring to this community? It’s something. Maybe its something that I haven’t mentioned yet, but your presence here brings something, and you are a gift to us all. Whether a rose or a wildflower, thorny or smooth, there is room for you here. Your brilliant colors are sure to contrast with those of your neighbor, but there is room for you here, and we thank you for brining your unique, fragile, and real self.

It is Spring my friends. It’s difficult not to revel in it here in this beautiful place. It is spring with flowers all around and warmth that we can trust in. But also, don’t leave this spring all to the outside world. I invite you to really revel in it. This is your spring to. Let this be your time to flourish, your time to come into full bloom, your time to express your unique and beautiful selves. It doesn’t matter your age, or your stage in life, because Spring happens again and again. And it is time for Spring now, time to flourish and share you fragile gift, time to rise up…

As we heard from Maya Angelou’s amazing Poem “Still I Rise,”

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

I rise
I rise
I rise.

We celebrate a miracle of human community and hope. In the midst of our diversity and in the face of adversity, we celebrate the miracle of hope and renewal.

It is time now to recreate a ritual from ages past. It is a ritual that lives on in congregations like ours all around the world. Flower by flower, person by person we build our communities and we bless them with hope. We bless them with faith that Spring will come again, and the miracle of hope and renewal that rests in each heart, will sustain us.


No comments:

Post a Comment