Garden Thursday : Thy Will Be Done

GethsemaneDuring the Sermon on the Mount, while expounding on anger, adultery, oaths, and retaliation, Jesus repeatedly emphasized the importance of motivation over action. It is not the act of adultery that makes us adulterers, but entertaining the desire. It is not the voicing of our hatred that is the sin, but the hatred itself.

The moral character behind our decisions, that inner seed of the actions which are regulated by Law, was at the core of Jesus’ teachings.

For this reason, Reform Unitarianism honors Garden Thursday — the day on which Jesus accepted the necessity of the painful events to follow — as the highest of Holy Days.

It is at Gethsemane that the teachings of Jesus and the story of Jesus come together.  During the Prayer in the Garden, by praying “Thy will be done” in the face of imminent suffering, Jesus made the commitment of moral character he had preached about in the Sermon on the Mount.

It was this decision in the Garden of Gethsemane that signifies the taking of the fruit of the Tree of Life, countering and remedying the imbalance created by the taking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden.  As that Knowledge brought responsibility to the first Adam, requiring punitive Law to regulate human actions, the moral teaching of the “Second Adam” (as Jesus has been called) transcends and fulfills the Law with the virtue of character.

Law, married to Wisdom, becomes whole. The Lion lies down with the Lamb.  Knowledge and Life together bring us back into Paradise.

The arrest of Jesus, his trial, and the crucifixion that followed were, like the material events consequent of any decision, secondary to the spiritual and moral event that took place inside the soul of Jesus when he said to God: “Nevertheless, Thy will be done.”

This fulfillment of Christ’s own teachings was the true pinnacle of his ministry.


[A version of this homily has been published on earlier Garden Thursdays]

[The stained glass above is at First Reformed United Church of Christ of Burlingon, North Carolina.]


Ascension Thursday

AscensionThe Twelve Days of Commission conclude today in the Ascension of Jesus. This feast day is one of the Four Great Thursdays of AUR, the other three being Garden Thursday, Declaration Thursday, and Harvest Thursday.

Ascension commemorates the return of Jesus to Heaven between two angels. This imagery places a final seal on the importance of reconciled, complementary virtues to Christian morality by closing Jesus’ time on Earth with symbolism that echoes a consistent theme throughout religion, both Christian and otherwise.

For example, in the book of Numbers, we read that the Word of God came to the Jews from between the two angels on the “Reconciler,” a device which sat atop the Ark of the Covenant.

Medieval Jewish theologian Moses Maimonides explained that these two angels on the Ark represented the punitive and beneficent aspects of God, reconciled in God’s Unity.

This moral message of reconciled virtues can also be seen symbolically in the prophecy of Isaiah that the Anointed returns when the wolf and the lamb, the leopard and the kid, and the lion and the calf lie down together.

In the Christian idiom are repeated lessons in reconciled, complementary virtues: Law and Wisdom reconciled in true religion, Faith and Hope reconciled in Divine Love, the shrewdness of serpents and the innocence of doves reconciled in the attitude of a true Christian.

Justice and mercy, strength and kindness, the arrow and the olive branch: these are the yin and yang of the Abrahamic idiom.  Only together and reconciled are these virtues; apart and partisan, they become the vices of Beast and Babylon, rage and lust, violence and libertinism, authoritarianism and anarchy.

The Reconciling Word of God, manifest in Jesus of Nazareth, returned to Heaven between two angels representing the benevolent and punitive aspects of God, angels who appeared beside him echoing the cherubim of the Ark. It is this image, and its rich spiritual meaning, that we commemorate on Ascension Thursday.

[A version of this homily was published on a previous Ascension Thursday.]


A Day of Hope and Blessings

hopeJoyful Thursday, the second Thursday after Easter, is the Ultimate of the 12 Days of Blessings, the first of the three dozenals of the Ascension Season.

The 12 Days of Blessings are a celebration of the open-minded virtue of Hope (ἐλπίς in Biblical Greek), and Joyful Thursday is a day to feast in optimistic happiness.

Hope is the virtue of open-minded thinking, the antidote of despair, and with Faith a vital half of the highest Christian virtue of Love.


The Ascension Season – 40 Days of Faith, Hope, Love

[An earlier version of this homily was published here in 2008]

The post-Easter season leading up to Ascension Thursday is a time to celebrate the complementary virtues that are reconciled in the wholeness of the Divine Word.

There are many ways to speak of these complementary virtues: as knowledge and life represented by the Trees of Paradise, or as the serpent and the dove of Jesus’ admonition in the Gospel of Matthew 10:16.  Their absence can also be seen in the Beast and Babylon of the Apocalypse of John.

But one of the most familiar ways to talk about these complementary virtues are as Faith and Hope, which were paired together by Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians (13:13) under divine Love, or agape.

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A Homily on Homosexuality

In America’s capital, gay marriage is now legal, highlighting the role of religion in the struggle for homosexual rights.

AUR’s official stance is that the push for gay marriage is well-intentioned but misguided: although we do believe in equal rights and dignity for gays and straights before the law, we also believe that the government should not discriminate based on relationship status and should not be involved in anything that is — in the overwhelming majority of cases — a religious institution.

The truly progressive position is that the institution of marriage belongs to churches and cultural organizations, and therefore has no place in legislatures and courtrooms.  Still, the legalization of gay marriage reaches toward social justice, even if it falls short of achieving it.

The larger issue of homosexuality in society remains in play, and forces opposed to gay rights will certainly fight to have gay marriage in DC (and elsewhere) repealed, renamed, or outright banned.  The governor of Virginia has recently declared anti-gay discrimination in state government acceptable, and the ability of homosexuals to serve openly in the American military continues to be obstructed by the infamous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

Although there are many arguments against homosexuality, the anti-gay movement draws key inspiration from religion, specifically Christian scripture.  It is this inspiration that is the subject of this Thursday’s homily.

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Pietist or Liturgical?

One of the primary divisions in the Christian religion is the chasm separating the pietist approach, emphasizing a rigorous Christian lifestyle, from the liturgical approach, emphasizing ritualized public worship.

It may be most appropriate to address this issue a week after celebrating Ash Wednesday with liturgical churches, as American Unitarianism arose from the pietist tradition of Protestant Christianity, which has been very critical and even suspicious of ritual and ceremony.

However, the tide has been turning in favor of liturgical forms recently, and we have learned much in the centuries since the beginnings of American Unitarianism about the important role that social ceremony plays in reinforcing personal lifestyle.

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Music Thursday – Celebrate in Song!

Today is Music Thursday, the 8th Day of Carnival, a day for celebrating life in song!   Music has a strong role in Carnival traditions, particularly in the Americas.

But, that music, and Carnival celebrations in general, often have sexually aggressive content that might make some uncomfortable, or be inappropriate for family Carnival parties with children present.

Sexual expression is a touchy issue at any time, but during holidays when sex tends to come out in to the open, it creates unnecessary tensions between folks who might otherwise get along nicely.

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Notional American Unitarian Reform Church No. 9

This is the ninth in a series of light-hearted signs for hypothetical American Unitarian Reform churches, created using an online image generator. We hope to show a range of attitudes and ideas all possible within the scope of AUR.

Today’s notional church is the Reformed Unitarian Church of the Apocalyptic Saints, appropriately promising a homily on the spiritual perils of partisanship.


12 Days of Action – Feast of the International Family

Today is the First of the 12 Days of Action, also known in AUR as International Family Day in honor of Saints Maris and Martha, a married couple from the Persian aristocracy, and their sons Audifax and Abakhum.   According to legend, this family immigrated to Rome to give aid to persecuted Christians, including providing proper burial for those martyred. 

For this offense, they were tortured and, when they refused to turn away from Christianity, executed: the men were beheaded and burned while Martha was drowned in a well.

This holiday is particularly celebrated for bringing together peoples of different cultures, nationalities, and social circumstances, for commemorating a marriage based on a mutual sense of mission, and for exemplifying (in the fire/water imagery of their martyrdom) the symbology of complementary virtues so central to “Tap Root” Christianity’s moral system, yet usually glossed over in Shallow Root and even Deep Root churches. 

Remember this day their bravery in the face of oppression, and their devotion to each other, to their convictions, and to universal justice.


Martin Luther King Jr. – American Prophet

It is quite appropriate that the (actual) birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. falls on the 9th Day of Defiance in the AUR calendar, in the middle of Nika Week commemorating when competing factions stood together against oppression in the Byzantine Empire, just as multiracial crowds gathered before Dr. King stood together against Jim Crow oppression in the United States.

But Martin Luther King is significant to AUR for other reasons, not only in his ecumenical attitude, but also the purity of the way he spoke of God’s relationship with Creation and his commitment of character to the will of God.

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