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.]


The Day of the Spark

On this day in the middle of the 18th century, the “Father of American Unitarianism” Reverend Jonathan Mayhew delivered a sermon on social justice that would later be called “the spark that ignited the American Revolution.”

The sermon itself had a rather cumbersome title, A Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers, but its message was simple: rulers have the right to reign only so long as their reign is just.

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Day of the Spear King

Gense-ric (the “Spear King”) leader of the much-maligned Vandals, was one of the last Unitarian Christian leaders in the ancient world. Why would Unitarian Reform want to celebrate the life of a man who sacked Rome, persecuted other Christians, and whose people gave us the word “vandalize”?

The bad reputation of Genseric and his Vandals is a good example of history being written by the victors.

This is not to say that the Spear King and his armies were saints, particularly by the moral standards of the 21st Century. However, compared to the “ecclesiastical mafia” of Trinitarian saint Athanasius* or the cultic totalitarianism of Theodosius “The Great” who declared Nicene Christianity the only permissible religion in the Empire, Genseric was a bleeding-heart liberal of the ancient world.

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Sleds and Cannons Day

Henry Knox was the son of a ship’s captain who died when the boy was nine. Henry began working as a bookstore clerk at 12 to support his mother, and later opened his own bookstore. If Knox’s story ended there, it would be a remarkable tale of trial, strength, survival, and ingenuity.

But, Henry Knox was also a soldier during the American Revolution, commissioned a Colonel by George Washington and tasked with bringing 60 tons of artillery from Crown Point and Ticonderoga in upstate New York to the Seige of Boston, a journey of 300 miles over unimproved terrain.

To make Knox’s mission even worse, as he made his way toward the coast, snow began covering the ground. Knox refused to see the heavy snowfall as a hindrance, instead seeking in it some opportunity. Rather than plowing through the snow, he put the cannon on sleds and slid them over it.

It may seem out of place to celebrate a military maneuver as an act of piety, but by accommodating providence rather than resisting it Henry Knox exemplified the spirit of “Thy Will Be Done.” The arrival of these cannon in Boston a mere 56 days after their departure has been described as miraculous, but it was in fact the wise action of Henry Knox that achieved what many believed could not be achieved, by applying his God-given reason to a God-given blessing that others might have seen as a curse.

Today, on the 6th Day of Action, we celebrate Knox’s achievement.


The 12 Days of Action

Yesterday was the First of the 12 Days of Action, also known in Unitarian Reform as International Family Day in honor of Saints Maris and Martha, a married couple from the ancient 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 holy day is particularly honored 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 symbolism of complementary virtues so central to “Tap Root” Christianity’s moral system, yet usually glossed over in what could be called 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.


[This is a repost from an earlier Feast of the International Family]


Martin Luther King Jr. – American Prophet

It is quite appropriate that the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. falls on the 9th Day of Defiance in the American Unitarian Reform calendar, in the middle of Nika Week which commemorates competing factions standing together against oppression in the Byzantine Empire, just as multiracial crowds gathered before Dr. King to stand 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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Nika Week is Here!

January 13th is the seventh of the 12 Days of Defiance, celebrating those who stand strong against tyranny. The first day honors St. Lucian, who resisted Pagan oppression during his nine years in prison. The sixth day honors John Hancock, Unitarian and first signer of the Declaration of Independence.

The final six days are dedicated to Nika Week, in honor of a moment of defiance in Constantinople during Christianity’s slow slide into the Dark Ages following the adoption of Trinitarianism. 

This year, Nika Week begins on the Ultimate Thursday of the dozenal, an extra special occasion!

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The 6th Day of Defiance – John Hancock Day

john_hancock_signature_civicsJanuary 12th is John Hancock Day for American Unitarian Reform, the 6th Day of Defiance on the AUR Winterval Season liturgical calendar.

Not only was John Hancock a prominent Unitarian Christian, but he has become iconic in American culture for a single, famous act that has out-shined (or over-shadowed, depending on your point-of-view) everything else he did during the Revolution: he signed his name almost absurdly large on the Declaration of Independence.

He has become so iconic, in fact, that his name has become slang for “signature.”

The moral lesson to be drawn from the icon of Hancock is the importance of committing oneself publicly to a good cause, regardless of the consequences. At the time, Hancock’s signature was an act of sedition, and he was putting his own life at risk. By making his decision known in such a public and non-repudiable manner, he was enacting a sort of ritual, the same sort we see at weddings, confirmations, and in oath-taking like that in presidential inaugurations. Continue reading


First Day of Defiance – St. Lucian’s Day

Today is the feast of St. Lucian, the first of the 12 Days of Defiance which begin the Winterval Season. Lucian was the teacher of both St. Arius and St. Eusebius, the bishop who baptized Constantine, finally Christianizing the Emperor after a lifetime of religious ambiguity.

St. Lucian was also the subject of a Notional Reform Unitarian Church image here at the AUR blog.

Not only was Lucian tortured and persecuted by the Romans for years, but his teachings were corrupted after his death by conflationist heretics attempting to reshape the honored Church Father in the mold of Trinitarianism. He was martyred on this day in 312 CE.

[Defiance Thursday will be on 31 January this year.]


Resolution Day

New Year’s Day is a day for resolutions, often taking the form of freeing ourselves from slavery to addictions, obsessions, and other bad habits. This yearly renewal — through promises to be stronger, healthier, and wiser — celebrates one of the cornerstones of Reform Unitarianism: commitment of character.

AUR strives not to promote false salvation, moral justification, and consolation on the cheap, whether it is the sort of “bow to dogma and your soul will be spared” comfort of many conservative churches or the “I’m okay, you’re okay, nothing we believe really matters” comfort of many liberal churches.

Spiritual peace and strength are not won by reciting a confession or catechism as if they were magic spells, or by impulsively tossing your life over to God like a hot potato, abdicating all responsibility for past wrong-doing.

Nor is spiritual peace achieved through conflict-averse relativism or laissez-faire creedlessness, what Unitarian theologian James Luther Adams described unflatteringly as “religion you can’t flunk.”

Peace, strength, and freedom are achieved only through a resolute struggle, by committing one’s character to moral growth and accepting a higher Good beyond one’s desires and instincts. New Year’s Day, what we call Resolution Day, provides a unique opportunity to stamp these commitments into our memory at the turning of the calendar.

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