Not Worth the Risk

Prelude: Jim Pearce

Chiming of the Singing Bowl: Rev. Misha Sanders

Words of Welcome and Announcements: Liz Martin

Good morning! I am Liz Martin, 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 “May Your Life Be As A Song” sung by Cameron Moore.

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

Call to Worship: Rev. Misha Sanders

By Ashley Horan

How is it with your soul?

This is the question that John Wesley, Anglican priest and the founder of Methodism, was known to ask of participants in small reflection groups. I ask you because, for me, this has been a hard week. So, beloveds, how is it with your souls?

If your response to that question is anything like mine, I want to invite you to pause as you read this. Take a deep breath, say a prayer, sing a song, light your chalice, feel the force of gravity pulling us all toward the same center—whatever helps you feel more rooted and less alone.

Now do it again. And again, and again.

And, once you feel that rootedness and connection, hear this:

You are loved beyond belief. You are enough, you are precious, your work and your life matter, and you are not alone. You are part of a “we,” a great cloud of witnesses living and dead who have insisted that this beautiful, broken world of ours is a blessing worthy of both deep gratitude and fierce protection. Our ancestors and our descendants are beckoning us, compelling us onward toward greater connection, greater compassion, greater commitment to one another and to the earth. Together, we are resilient and resourceful enough to say “yes” to that call, to make it our life’s work in a thousand different ways, knowing that we can do no other than bind ourselves more tightly together, and throw ourselves into the holy work of showing up, again and again, to be part of building that world of which we dream but which we have not yet seen.

And now, please light YOUR home chalice along with Elyssa Branum-Martin, as she lights our official chalice for this morning. 

Lighting of the Chalice: Elissa Branum-Martin

Story Wisdom: Adia Fields-Udofia, “What If Everybody Did That?”, Ellen Javernick

Good Morning! I am Adia Fields-Udofia, the Director of Religious Education for Children and Youth. I am so happy that you are here with us this morning. Today, we are going to be learning about taking risks. Sometimes, when we take a risk like trying something new or asking someone to play with us, it can help us to grow; it can be positive. But sometimes, taking a risk could be a bad choice. It might be something we really want to try….but it is a risk. We have to ask ourselves is it worth the risk? Could I get hurt? Could someone else get hurt?

Our story today is entitled, What if everybody did that? by Ellen Javernick. It helps us to think about the choices that we make and if it is just not worth taking the risk. Let’s enjoy our story together.

Reading: Liz Martin

Monet Refuses the Operation, by Lisel Mueller

Doctor, you say there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
wisteria separate
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolve
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don’t know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent.  The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and change our bones, skin, clothes
to gases.  Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.

“…Dr. Philip Rogers will now sing, “Meditation On Breathing” by Sara Dan Jones.”

Interlude: “Meditation on Breathing,” Philip Rogers

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 there.

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.

We reported last week that Spencer, the 2 year old daughter of our custodian, Kevin Coleman, had been hospitalized with seizures. Indeed, she was diagnosed with a seizure disorder, has medication to control the condition, and is doing just fine. A JOYAnd, I might add that Kevin and his family are also appreciative of the expressions of concern from members of this congregation through cards, emails, etc.

Cathy Frost is at home following her recent elbow surgery and she is doing very well. A JOY.

Last Sunday, Gwen Kahn’s mother, Mary Lowrey, passed away after a very lengthy illness. A stone of sorrow for Gwen, Sydney, Jay, Anthony, and all who loved Mary.  

Please keep in mind those in our congregation who are ill, hospitalized or recovering, as well as those grieving a loss. Your prayers, healing thoughts, cards and emails are welcome.

Ryan Wilson, nephew of Marti Wilson.  

Hugh Fordyce 

John Weinert  

A stone of CONCERN for each.

We also have some birthdays:

This past week, a belated birthday wish goes to:

Dave Zenner           02/15
Bruce Niedermeyer 02/17
Judy McKinley        02/18 
Jordan Dale             02/20
Allan Sanders          02/20
Dominic Stewart      02/20

And this week:

Sabastian Stewart    02/22
Ella Morgen         02/25
Larry Wallis       02/25

Prayer and Meditation: Karen Edmonds

Please join me in the spirit of prayer or meditation.

 “There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrain of nature-

The assurance that dawn comes after night and spring after the winter.”

AND

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reservoirs of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.” – Rachel Carson

May it be so.

And now a musical selection, IBERIAN NOCTURNE, played by Sally Mitchell.

Music Interlude: Iberian Nocturne“, Sally Mitchell, piano

Sermon: Rev. Misha Sanders

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” 

Remember two weeks ago when that quote was our jumping-off point for a service about how it’s cool to take risks sometimes?  

Well, that was just a part of the story, and today, is about the vital flip side. 

It’s still Black History Month.  

It is also still Love month, Valentine’s Day having been just a week ago.   

And it is a month in which our worship and education theme is RISK.  

Risk. Love. Black History.  

I like that combination.  It all fits just fine, to me.  

And to me, it speaks to where we are as a world, a nation, a state, a denomination, and as people.  

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Anais Nin (Anah-Ees Neen), I will remind us with a little bit of the introduction I shared two weeks ago, was born in 1903 and died in 1977. She was a French-Cuban-American writer who was a TAKER OF RISKS, in all capital letters. What I knew prior to this month about Anais Nin was that she was a famous diarist, which would probably have translated into being a wildly popular blogger if she were alive and working right now.  She also wrote fiction, but is best known for her diaries and, in some circles, her erotica. Now, we Unitarian Universalists are proudly the church of Our Whole Lives, which we fondly know as OWL, which is what we call our comprehensive sexuality education program. OWL programs teach age-appropriate, science-based facts about our natures as sexual beings for each life stage, from the youngest of elementary school children to our elders. It also teaches consent and diversity in sexuality and gender, and many ways of being ethical and free and fully-embodied and in right relationships with ourselves first, and then with others.  

So, this subject is welcome here in Unitarian Universalism.  Encouraged even.  

And here’s where I talk about a side of Nin that I didn’t delve into very deeply two weeks ago. It didn’t even take a very deep dive into the life of Anais Nin to realize that she took some risks that I don’t imagine she ended up believing were worth taking. And neither do I.    

She created a brilliant body of work as a feminist woman in the first half of the twentieth century, a woman who had the audacity to write about the radical notion that women are in charge of their own bodies, their own happiness, their own decisions, mistakes, failures, successes and glories. Those are bold risks worth lifting up as remarkable.  

And another painful truth about the life of Anais Nin is that her death in 1977 was from a kind of cancer the most likely cause of which was a sexually transmitted virus. Ms. Nin was a woman who took bold risks, worthy risks, laudable risks, and, in the end, maybe a few risks that were not worth taking.  

And lest you think your minister is about to shame a dead woman about her robust sexuality, let me be clear. I place the blame squarely on the shoulders of patriarchal, heteronormative purity culture that forced women’s sexuality into the closet, made safer, sex options scarce, made shame abundant, and made risky secretive behaviors the only way some women knew to express their true selves. Especially hardest hit by unnecessary disease, pregnancy, medical malpractice, and death, of course, and as usual, were women of color. 

And on that note, if you are thinking about the parallels and the history of unnecessary disease and death in the LGBTQ community, so was I.  

And that got me to thinking about the amazing Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Straight from the NIAID website: 

“Dr. Fauci was appointed Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in 1984. He oversees an extensive research portfolio of basic and applied research to prevent, diagnose, and treat established infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, respiratory infections, diarrheal diseases, tuberculosis and malaria as well as emerging diseases such as Ebola and Zika. 

Dr. Fauci has advised seven Presidents on HIV/AIDS and many other domestic and global health issues. He was one of the principal architects of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a program that has saved millions of lives throughout the developing world.

Dr. Fauci also is the longtime chief of the Laboratory of Immunoregulation. He helped pioneer the field of human immunoregulation by making important basic scientific observations that underpin the current understanding of the regulation of the human immune response. 

Dr. Fauci has made seminal contributions to the understanding of how HIV destroys the body’s defenses leading to its susceptibility to deadly infections. Further, he has been instrumental in developing treatments that enable people with HIV to live long and active lives. 

According to the Web of Science, Dr. Fauci ranked 9th out of 2.5 million authors in the field of immunology by total citation count between 1980 and January 2021.  During the same period, he ranked 20th out of 2.4 million authors in the field of research & experimental medicine.”

All that to say this: Dr. Fauci knows a thing or two… point four million… about risks worth taking and risks NOT worth taking.  

Dr. Fauci believed that it was worth risking his reputation and his career to devote his life to helping the LGBTQ community, and in particular the entire continent of Africa, to survive the AIDS virus, in a time when the fear and the ignorance were so rampant that just the idea of wanting to help the infected could literally get you murdered, and in too many cases did.  

But he did it. And it served him well to get out there in front of it all and say unpopular things about how to mitigate our risks and how to help those most affected by a deadly virus, did it not? Because the political and social climate is different now, but is it really? How different? We are again paralyzed by fear of a deadly virus which, just like AIDS, has the potential to affect us all, even more so, of course, because of the methods of transmission. And, just like AIDS, this is a virus that is disproportionately affecting communities already marginalized in society, and the rich and powerful are getting the vaccinations first and the best treatments, and the best chance of surviving and thriving. How far have we come, really? 

And again, decades after he began his career dispelling myths and spreading accurate information about one deadly pandemic, here is Dr. Fauci once again, speaking truth to power, not caring whether or not the truth is popular, and telling us, when leaders say masking up and social distancing is a political hoax, that we should pay attention to the science not the rhetoric, and, more to the point, we should do it because we care about each other.  

Beloveds, when we talk about Risk as a spiritual theme, we… well, me, anyway… I think first of all the big bold ways in which we SHOULD be taking risks and getting out of our comfort zones, and feeling the fear and doing it anyway, and blah, blah, you know all that.  

But today, I want to remind us that there are still, maybe now more than ever, some risks that are not worth taking.  

We are almost a full year into social distancing because of COVID-19, and we are all so very, very tired of it.  It is not the time to let down our guard. Not just yet. There is HOPE… so much hope right there where we can see it and almost touch it, but let’s hold off for a little while longer on the touching, please. Many of you have received your first, some even your second shots of the vaccination for this virus. That is SUCH exciting news, and I will tell you that it thrills my heart and brings tears to my eyes EVERY single time I hear the great news of another one of you getting your turn.  

But let us keep in mind the cautions from Dr Fauci, and all of our other medical professionals on the frontlines who are reminding us that vaccinated people need to continue with the same safety precautions as the rest of us, at least for now. I am not going to get into the reasons as though I have a right to share medical information, because that would be unethical and so far out of my scope of practice. But it’s news most of us already know. It’s still a time to keep the masks on, keep the distance firm, and sanitize the hell out of everything anybody might have touched or might eventually touch. Still. Even though we are tired of it. Easing up now is not a risk worth taking. Not yet.  

And that is HARD! I haven’t hugged any of you who are, like me, huggers, in over a year! I miss your smiles. I miss the squeeze of your hands as you leave the sanctuary after worship for coffee hour. I miss having you hand me a plate of cookies in coffee hour and telling me who made them. 

We’ll do all those things again. Hopefully relatively soon.  

But for now, I need this reminder, and maybe you do too. Being with one another through physical touch or physical proximity is still not a risk worth taking.  

Oh, if we doubted our interconnectedness ever before, surely now we understand that we literally breathe one another’s breath, and as the prophet Jesus said, we bear one another’s burdens, and as MLK taught us, we are in an inescapable network of mutuality, and as our own principles remind us we are strands in an interdependent web, and, beloveds, there is just no escaping each other. For better or for worse, my liberation is bound up together with yours.  

And for me to let down my guard… lower my mask… lower my standards for distancing protocols I will and will not accept… it is not worth the risk to YOU. I need this reminder. I need to remind myself that I really do love you too much to say anything but NO about taking risks with this virus that has killed and debilitated, and terrified too many people that I love.  

Please say no a lot this week, beloveds. No to every single risk not worth taking. For me. For you. For us. For everyone you love and everyone that is held by love, which is all of us.  

May it be so. May WE be the ones to make it so. 

Introduction to the Offering: Liz Martin

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: Liz Martin

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

Today, Hannah Cowart was our tech producer for the first time.  And, Hannah, you did a FABULOUS job! Thank you for serving us in this way today.  

Our words of benediction are by Anya Sammler-Michael

“I put my faith in you.

I put my faith in every one of you who woke up this morning with the weight of loss—manifesting as numbness, anger, fear, or an alienating, aching pain.

I put my faith in you, and I pray you will put your faith in me.

We need one another now, because we will not make it alone.”

Postlude: Jim Pearce

Thank you to everyone that helped with today’s service:

Minister: Rev. Misha
Worship Associate: Liz Martin
Chalice Lighter: Elissa Branum-Martin
Story Wisdom: DRE Adia Fields-Udofia
Music: Dr. Philip Rogers, Cameron Moore, Sally Mitchell, Jim Pierce
Joys & Sorrows: Karen Edmonds
Usher: Cameron Moore
Producer: Hannah Cowart