Georgia on My Mind

Prelude: Sally Mitchell

Chiming of the Singing Bowl: Rev. Misha Sanders

Words of Welcome and Announcements: Lil Woolf

Good morning! I am Lil Woolf, a Worship Associate here at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Sandy Springs, Georgia. 

Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation seeks to create loving community, inspire joy and spiritual growth, and support courageous action. All are welcome, as together we journey towards justice and equity by learning, caring, and acting together.

We especially welcome any newcomers and visitors we have today.  I hope you’ll join us after worship for coffee hour… from the comfort of your own homes. You can just stay right here when the service ends. There is no need to leave this zoom call, we will begin coffee hour as soon as the postlude is over. 

If you haven’t already, now is a great time to grab whatever materials you’ll need to light your own chalice if you’d like that to be part of your worship experience today.

As always, kindly set your phones to worship mode; we won’t know, but I think you might enjoy the hour free from distractions. And feel free to check in on your social media of choice to let your friends and family know about this place of caring you’ve found today. Our congregation is an exciting place to be, and we love it when you share the good news. 

And although we cannot be physically together to greet each other today with hugs, high-fives, smiles, and words of love, we are all together in spirit and each and every one of us is welcome.  

And now let us prepare for worship with the song “One More Circle” sung by Traci Montgomery on guitar with Bruce Neidermeyer on bass.

Music: “One More Circle” Traci Montgomery and Bruce Niedermeyer

Call to Worship: Rev. Misha Sanders

Good Morning!  I am Rev. Misha Sanders, your Senior Minister here at NWUUC.  Our call to worship today is by Sylvia Howe:

“We bid you welcome on this first Sunday of the new year.
Like Janus we gather with part of us looking backward
and part of us looking forward.
We gather on the edge of the new year
saddened by our losses,
cherishing our joys,
aware of our failures,
mindful of days gone by.
We gather on the cusp of this new year
eager to begin anew,
hopeful for what lies ahead,
promising to make changes,
anticipating tomorrows and tomorrows.
We invite you to join our celebration of life,
knowing that life includes good and bad,
endings and beginnings.
We bid you welcome!

And now, our wonderful Director of Religious Education, Miss Adia Fields-Udofia will light our chalice. 

Lighting of the Chalice: Adia Fields-Udofia

The chalice lighting words are by Tracey Bleakney.

This flame burns for those who seek and defend the right to a free and responsible search for truth and meaning so that each person may live according to conscience in a democratically elected society.
The flame also burns for the defenders of freedom, working against those who would impose their own religious beliefs on others through intimidation or legislation.
May we tend this fire always, ever vigilant and courageous in the struggle for freedom and justice for all.

Story Wisdom: Rev. Misha Sanders “The Pie Rat and the Fifth Principle”

Reflection: Lil Woolf

A few years ago we had a runoff election in Ga for Secretary of State. The choice was between the person I was supporting—an honest public servant who wanted only to serve the people of GA, and had been a US Congressman—and his opponent, a man who had been working in a corrupt secretary of state office.  

I wanted to encourage and remind members of our congregation to be sure to vote, so I asked the interim minister if it would be ok to offer my encouragement during our Sunday Joys & Sorrows. He said yes.  Neither of us thought this was a violation of separation of church and state because I wasn’t openly advocating for one side or the other.  My goal was simply to get people to vote.

Runoffs are usually marked by low voter turnout, and while I had worked in a variety of ways for the general election, I was concerned that this runoff would be like most others.

I offered the following statement that Sunday: “Don’t forget that we have a runoff vote coming up this Tuesday. Voter turnout for runoffs is a small fraction of participation compared to those who voted in the general election but it is still a very important vote. It is our right and our responsibility to vote”.

Several people after the service thanked me for reminding them. However, the next day I got an email from a then-member who chastised me for my inappropriate use of J&S to make a political statement, especially since I was in a leadership role. Further, he said he knew the candidate I was supporting was the better candidate, but because he was so upset with me he was going to vote for the other candidate.  

Encouraging people to educate themselves about candidates and issues and then to vote, it seems to me, is encouraging people to practice democracy.  

My first experience in following politics was when I was a freshman at  Kent State in 1960 and went with my father to a rally in Akron, Ohio, for John F Kennedy. It wasn’t a huge gathering as I recall but I was thrilled at  being in the same room with him. I think that is when my interest in politics began, even though I was too young to vote for him, because at that time one had to be 21 to be eligible to vote, and I was 20. But that experience sparked an interest in government and in being able to participate as a voter, an interest that has stayed with me.

This week I was asked to report the turnout from two early voting sites. Nothing too difficult, just drive to each site and estimate how many people are there—is there a line waiting? Is there an obvious problem? I was overcome with emotion at the site in Chamblee, behind the High School. There wasn’t a line waiting, but there was a steady stream of determined people coming and going. There was limited parking but people parked across the street, down the street, double-parked. They were dressed in scrubs (obviously coming from or going to work), some in jeans, others in suits. There were couples, parents and adult children together, people of all colors, shapes and sizes, and most had on masks. I broke down and sobbed there in my car at the sight of democracy in action.

We worry about corruption in our government today and goodness knows, it is there. Some days it is frightening to think Democracy is on the line and in danger, but our country has been through MANY scary times before and it has always, thus far, held. I think it is our freedom to vote that has been our saving grace each time we worry about what might become of our nation. We certainly got energized in record numbers this past year to make our voices heard.

So my final point is this: Have you voted in this most critical run-off race in Georgia? Did you early vote? Did you vote absentee or will you go on Tuesday to exercise your right and responsibility as a citizen? I have sent 140 notices to absentee voters this week whose ballots needed to be “cured”—meaning there were simple mistakes on their ballots that needed to be fixed for them to be counted. If you voted absentee you can go to the Secretary of State website to see if it was accepted or rejected, or you can call the voter hotline, both of which are listed in the chat.  It would be a shame for your vote to not count. This is our democracy, our fragile democracy, and we are all responsible for preserving it.

And now in preparation for Joys and Sorrows, Dail Edwards will sing “Find A Stillness”

Interlude: “Find a Stillness” Dail Edwards

Joys and Sorrows: Karen Edmonds

Good Morning. I am Karen Edmonds, a member of Northwest’s Care Corps Team, and I am here to bring you the Joys and Sorrows this morning. And I invite you all now, those of you with Joys and Sorrows to share with our congregation here gathered virtually, to open the chat box at the bottom of your screen and enter your Joys and Sorrows.

Joys and Sorrows is our time in this space to honor these sacred moments and milestones. For our Ritual, we have water and we have river stones. Smooth and heavy in our hands, these river stones symbolize life’s pleasures and times of ease and life’s burdens and times of heaviness. The water in our bowl is a precious natural resource. We use it sparingly, reminding us of the preciousness of each life and its unique journey.

Please keep Kathy Miller in mind. She is at home coping with a particularly painful bout of shingles. The Care Corps has seen that she’s been provided a few meals this past week and as of Saturday she said she is just beginning to feel a bit better.  Please keep Kathy in your thoughts and prayers. 

This coming week and yesterday we have some Northwest birthdays.

Toni Page 01/02 yesterday
Fay Mann 01/05
Sydney Kahn 01/07
Adia Fields-Udofia 01/10 next Sunday

A stone for each and may you all have wonderful celebrations of you.

Prayer and Meditation: Karen Edmonds

I’d like to leave you with these meditative words by Elizabeth Strong:

Meditation on Winter Celebrations

We are in the midst of the season of celebration.
Of the birth of new hope,
 Of the festival of lights,
 Of the triumph of freedom.
The darkness of the year is lifting and the time of light
grows longer. We have gathered with an anticipation of
hope for peace on earth and in our homes.
We have gathered in this season of celebrations seeking
comfort to soften the pain and the losses our lives have
suffered in the fast retreating year.
We have gathered to worship joyfully within this season of
celebrations with the tenderness and love of family and
friends around us.
Let us be embraced by the strength and power of this
sacred space that we each bring as we create this beloved community.
Let joy and sorrow join in the fullness of our living.
Let the power and strength we embody join us together as
we move through the seasons of celebration into a new
year with a new vision of hope for peace on earth.

Blessed Be

Cameron Moore will sing for us now, “May Your Life Be As A Song”

Music Interlude: “May Your Life Be As A Song” Cameron Moore

Sermon: Rev. Misha Sanders

I have only been a resident of Georgia for one year and five months. As most of you know, I was not born here, but it’s not my fault and I got here as fast as I could. 

In early 2019, as I was boarding my flight from Chicago to come visit this beautiful place and meet our ministerial search committee as one of your pre-candidates for settled ministry, I happened to look down at someone already seated in fancier seats closer to the front of the plane, and found myself looking directly into the kind, smiling face of none other than Stacey Abrams.  

I almost fainted.  

I told her thank you for all of her hard work in promoting democracy and fighting voter suppression. She thanks me, asked me my name, and then repeated it back to me with the correct pronunciation, which is more rare than you might imagine. 

Now, I am a rational, thinking woman, so I knew it wasn’t an omen of something wonderful, but I decided that it was probably an omen of something wonderful.

So, I happily floated to my seat nearer the back of the plane and discovered that my seatmate was a teenage girl who was flying for the first time, and was very scared. We chatted. I told her all about fan-girling over Stacey Abrams. She told me her reason for traveling to Atlanta and I told her mine.  It got a little weird, because depending on their history with religious institutions, people always react to the news that they are chatting with a minister. And so, after that we fell into a natural silence for quite some time.  

And then we hit some turbulence.  

It freaked me out a little, but when the girl unexpectedly grabbed my hand as she kept her eyes tightly closed and mouthed prayers, I tried very hard to remain a calm, non-anxious presence, just like I’d learned in seminary.  

After the rocking about had passed, this sweet young woman looked at me and sighed deeply. And, while I know nothing about her faith in a Higher Power when her feet are firmly planted on the Earth, I do know that none of that seems to matters when you’re in a metal tube hurtling through space. And in that moment, that girl was definitely a believer…in something.   

She said to me, “I think we’re going to be okay.  I just keep reminding myself that a minister is on this flight, so God surely won’t let us crash.”

To which I responded, “That’s interesting, because I’ve been sitting here reminding myself that Stacey Abrams is on this flight, so surely God won’t let us crash.” 

Now… Here’s what we know when our feet are firmly planted on the earth. Things happen, comedy, tragedy, drama, romance, all of the above… whether or not you ate your lucky Hoppin’ John on Friday or not, whether or not you share a plane with a scared teenager going to visit a potential college, a nervous minister going to visit a potential congregation, or Stacey Abrams, coming home to keep on quietly changing the world, or not.  

We simply just don’t have control over much, in the big picture. 2020 sure was a Master Class in learning THAT hard lesson. And a Higher Power who DOES have control… is up for debate. Mother Teresa, when asked once what would be the first thing she would say to God when she meets them, said she would say, “You’ve got some explaining to do!”  And to that I say a hearty, faithful, agnostic AMEN.  

But just because I am not in control and you are not in control and none of us can be as certain as we would like to be that ANYONE is up there in a celestial control tower at all… there are, indeed, things that we can do… right here on earth… to make change.  

I mean, we’re counting on it, right? Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

And my dear fellow Georgians, in 2020 and in 2021, in our state, in our nation, and reaching in real ways into the entire world, I do believe that maybe it is WE who Margaret Mead was referring to. Us. Fulton, Cobb, and Gwinnett Counties, Georgia, USA.  

Whodathink it? Well, besides my travel buddy, Stacey Abrams, I mean.  

While speaking in terms of specific candidates from a real or virtual pulpit is inappropriate and in some instances against the law, according to the Johnson Amendment (adopted in 1954), it is absolutely still true that politics and religion have always been intertwined. And it is unfortunately true that, in modern US politics, one sidedness has become the expectation of the religious voice in politics. But we know that it is inaccurate to believe that, because of the loudest voices, people of faith are relegated to only one party, only one side of an aisle or an issue. It is simply not true, and no truer now than ever, despite the noisy grandstanding.

As Unitarian Universalists, we have a proud tradition of siding with love in the public square, including faithfully joining the political fray, and not being shy about it.  

That’s okay. That’s more than okay. We’re proud of that! It is a faithful living of Unitarian Universalist principles.  

Our fifth principle states this: We affirm and promote the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large. 

The rewrite for our youngsters says it this way: We believe that all persons should have a vote about the things that concern them.

It is that simple. We believe in voting. We believe that the way we vote is informed by our other principles, including (Principle 1) the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and (Principle 2) Justice, equity and compassion in human relations, (Principle 6) The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all, and (Principle 7) Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

These principles we hold so dear are, I believe, a clear voting platform.

What do they mean in terms of which boxes you check in the voting booth… well that is up to you and your own conscience, which we promote in (Principle3) Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth. And (Principle4) A free and responsible search for truth and meaning. 

Friends, when our denominational leaders encouraged us up through this past November’s General Election to UU the vote it was not because we wanted to muddy the waters between religion and politics in unethical ways. It is because voting is absolutely the UU thing to do! There are good reasons to get out there and use our voice and our vote built right into every single Principle we hold dear!  

In two days, Georgia Peaches, the whole world will be watching us. US!  Right here in this most beautiful state of the union, Georgia. We have history to make. And we will. One way or another, it comes down to what our state decides about the make-up of our nation’s Senate.  

It’s a very big deal, to put it mildly. We are a very big deal.  

And I know that I am preaching to the choir. I would venture a guess that most of us have already voted; either in-person at realty voting sites, or by absentee ballots. But, some of you are waiting for Tuesday, and that’s just fine, too. Surely we remember voting in elections where the day of the election was our only shot, and that’s still a perfectly valid and kind of invigorating, exciting choice.  

I want to remind us that, just as our deeply held values were on the ballot in November, Georgia, they are on the ballot again on Tuesday.  

It may look like a short list, with only two Senate seats and one Public Service Commissioner to choose from. 

But there is so much more. 

Unitarian Universalist values are on the ballot. 

Fairness and equity are on the ballot.  

LGBTQ full inclusion is on the ballot.  

Bodily autonomy for women is on the ballot. 

Black lives are on the ballot.  

Immigrant lives are on the ballot.  

Science and public health are on the ballot. 

Our natural environment is on the ballot. 

Our children’s education is on the ballot.  

Poverty relief is on the ballot. 

Gun violence is on the ballot. 

International allyship is on the ballot.  

Our faith is absolutely on the ballot.  

LOVE is on the ballot.  

LOVE is on the ballot. 

Beloveds, call two Georgia voters who you know. Or ten. Or twenty, and I don’t really care if you know them or not.  

Are you in a position where you feel safe enough to mask up and offer someone a ride to the polls on Tuesday? It’s not too late to offer. 

Can you be prepared to offer relief in the form of snacks if you find out the line at the polling place in your neighborhood is four hours long on Tuesday afternoon? Can you proudly wear the swag of your candidate for the next couple of days?  

Georgia, we are in the spotlight. No pressure, but wow, this is a lot of pressure.  

But look what we have already done.  

It’s not politically biased to say that what we have done, Georgia, is we have made it crystal clear to the world that Georgia believes in the organizing power of black women enough to follow their lead and assure voting rights for ALL of Georgia’s citizens.  

God may not have kept our plane in the air because of my teenage seatmate, or me, or even because of Stacey Abrams, but let us not pretend, Georgians, that Stacey Abrams is not the winner of the last election and of this one we’re about to live through.  

Who would have imagined. A state which was once a proud member of the Confederacy.  

I believe with all of my heart that the heart of Georgia did not just now change this past November. I believe, rather, that the true heart of Georgia is simply being REVEALED, because the voices and the votes of the people have become a little less suppressed and silenced. Because a Fair Fight Club showed up and showed out.  

A Fair Fight. That’s all Georgia needed to make history.  

And I believe with all my heart that we are about to do it again.     

And I know, beloveds, without a shadow of a doubt, that it will be, in part, because YOU voted your values, voted our faith, and voted for LOVE.  

The stuck-at-home actors of Broadway made a gift for us, Georgia.  

And our own amazing Director of Music, Dr. Philip Rogers, had the connections to make it possible for us to get permission to share it with you today.  

Please join me, sith some tissues handy, as we settle in and receive this gift. Georgia, we are on the minds of the world. We are being sent love upon love upon love.  

And now it is our time to love the world right back.  

Watch and listen to this gorgeous love song to US with me now, will you? 

Music for Reflection: “Georgia on My Mind” Broadway for Georgia

Offering: Introduction by Lil Woolf

We give to remind ourselves how many gifts we have to offer. We give to remember that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. We give with the faith that, together, we have enough. We give to say yes to something we value. With our gifts, freely given, may we say yes to the values of our faith. Our offering will now be given and gratefully received.

Dedication of the Offering: Lil Woolf

Now please join me in the dedication of our offering. 

“To the work of this congregation, which is weaving a tapestry of love and action, we dedicate our offerings and the best of who we are.”

Benediction: Rev. Misha Sanders

Interfaith Prayer for Justice Makers

By John Saxon

Holy One, known by many names and beyond all names, known in many ways and beyond our knowing:

We gather together this day in the cold of winter as people of many faiths, as Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Unitarian Universalists, as believers and non believers, young and old, gay and straight, black and white, Hispanic and Asian, Republicans and Democrats, documented and undocumented, siblings and neighbors: a human rainbow united by our shared faith in the ideals of justice, democracy, community, the common good, and love of our neighbors.

Shelter us, we pray, when the cold winds of indifference, divisiveness, and narrow self interest howl in the night, chilling our hearts and rattling the windows of our souls.

Help us to find new hope, we ask, when hope is hard to find, when we forget that this struggle is a movement not a moment, when we wonder whether we’ll ever reach the promised land of beloved community and cry out in despair and frustration: “How long? How long?”

Remind us this evening and with the dawning of each new day that the moral arc of the universe is long, but that it bends toward justice.

Grant us, we pray, the strength and courage to stand up and speak out against injustice, discrimination, and oppression, to reclaim in this day and time the mantle of prophets who throughout the ages have spoken truth to power and called those with power and privilege to honor, respect, protect, and care for the least of those among us—the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the sick, the broken, the forgotten, the strangers in our land.

Grant us, too, wisdom and humility that we might speak our truth in love, remembering that “hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear.”

Accompany us as you did those brave souls who, in the face of police and horses and billy clubs, crossed the Edmund Pettus bridge and walked from Selma to Montgomery to demand that the most fundamental right in a democratic society—the right to vote—not be denied to any citizen of this nation.

This we pray in the name of all that we hold sacred, holy, right, good, and true.

Let the people say “Amen.” May it be so.

Postlude: Jim Pearce