The Grace of Spring

Prelude: Sally Mitchell “Morning Has Broken”

Chiming of the Singing Bowl: Rev. Misha Sanders

Words of Welcome and Announcements: Robert Niedermeyer

Good morning! I am Robert Niedermeyer, a member of the youth group and 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. Usually we follow up our worship hour with an informal virtual coffee hour, and all are encouraged to stay. Today, however, is a little bit different. Of course, all are still encouraged to stay! We will be having a special congregational meeting, for the purpose of approving the expenditure for the HVAC replacement and for a bylaws revision that changes the amount the Board can expend for major repairs or emergencies. This is our democratic process in action! You can just stay right here when the service ends. There is no need to leave this zoom call, we will begin the congregational meeting 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 “There is More Love Somewhere”, played by Jim Pearce.

Music: Jim Pearce “There is More Love Somewhere”

Call to Worship: David Niedermeyer

Good morning! I’m David Niedermeyer, a youth group member, and one of your worship associates this morning. 

Our call to worship is by Rev. Susan Davison Archer:

“The earth is warming, the birdsong increases, the sweeter breezes brush our cheeks, and the earth holds hope in its seeds and buds.

Come, let us gather this morning, with joyful noise, with warm hearts, and with hopeful spirits, for we are one with the renewal of the earth and blessedly held in the love of one another.”

And now please join Shelton Chau as we light our chalices.

Lighting of the Chalice: Shelton Chau

Story Wisdom: Adia Fields-Udofia

Reading: Robert Niedermeyer

Our first reading is a poem, In Time of Silver Rain, by Langston Hughes:

“In time of silver rain
The earth puts forth new life again,
Green grasses grow
And flowers lift their heads,
And over all the plain
The wonder spreads
Of Life,
Of Life,
Of life!
In time of silver rain
The butterflies lift silken wings
To catch a rainbow cry,
And trees put forth new leaves to sing
In joy beneath the sky
As down the roadway
Passing boys and girls
Go singing, too,
In time of silver rain When spring
And life
Are new.”

Our second reading is a prayer, by Rev. Jane Rzepka:

“O Spirit of Life and Renewal
We have wintered enough,
mourned enough,
oppressed ourselves enough.
Our souls are too long cold and buried,
our dreams all but forgotten,
our hopes unheard.
We are waiting to rise from the dead.
In this, the season of steady rebirth,
we awaken to the power so abundant, so holy,
that returns each year through earth and sky.
We will find our hearts again, and our good spirits.
We will love, and believe, and give and wonder,
and feel again the eternal powers.
The flow of life moves ever onward
through one faithful spring,
and another,
and now another.
May we be forever grateful.
Amen.”

Now, please enjoy The Voices of Northwest, as they sing, “Blessing”

Interlude: Voices of Northwest “Blessing”

Joys and Sorrows: David Niedermeyer

Good Morning. I am David Niedermeyer, a member of the youth group and a worship associate, and I am here to bring you the Joys and Sorrows of our congregation. 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.

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.

John Weinert remains in a long term rehab facility following a fall. A stone of Sorrow for John..  

Hugh Fordyce is doing very well following his hospitalization and long recovery earlier this year. He’s been out enjoying the recent spring weather, working in his yard and mowing grass. So good to hear. A stone of Joy for Hugh.

Ben Manely is a senior at Marietta High School this year and was just awarded 2nd Place in Cobb’s Best of 2021 in the category “Blogger/ Influencer.”  His amazing photography can be found on Instagram and Pinterest. A stone of Joy for Ben.

Becki Gregory is recovering from three broken ribs due to a recent fall from her horse.  She is sidelined now, and for another few weeks, from the sports she loves best, kayaking and riding, or, as she put it “no paddle, no saddle.” Get well soon, Becki! A stone of Sorrow for her.

And we add one last stone for those Joys and Sorrows that go unspoken as well as those individuals who lack a community within which to share theirs.

We also have a few birthdays this week!

Jesse Williams 04/11   Today
Priscilla Hopkins 04/13  Tuesday
David Self 04/13   Tuesday
David Morgen 04/15   Thursday

Prayer and Meditation: David Niedermeyer

Love is the spirit of this church
and service is it’s law.
This is our great covenant;
to dwell together in peace,
to seek the truth in love,
and to help one another.
Because caring is a calling and
all of us are called.
May it be so.

Music Interlude: Wailin Jenny “One Voice

Sermon: Rev. Misha Sanders

“I’ll wax romantic about the splendors of spring in a moment,” Parker J. Palmer wrote. “But first there’s a hard truth to be told. Before spring becomes beautiful, it’s plug-ugly, nothing but mud and muck. I’ve walked through early spring fields that will suck the boots off your feet, a world so wet and woeful you yearn for the return of snow and ice.

Of course, there’s a miracle inside that muddy mess: those fields are a seedbed for rebirth. I love the fact that the word humus, the decayed organic matter that feeds the roots of plants, comes from the same word-root that gives rise to humility. It’s an etymology in which I find forgiveness, blessing, and grace. It reminds me that the humiliating events of life — events that leave “mud on my face” or “make my name mud” — can create the fertile soil that nourishes new growth.

Spring begins tentatively, but it advances with a tenacity that never fails to touch me. The smallest and most tender shoots insist on having their way, pressing up through ground that looked, only a few weeks earlier, as if it would never grow anything again. The crocuses and snowdrops don’t bloom for long. But their mere appearance, however brief, is always a harbinger of hope — and from those small beginnings, hope grows at a geometric rate. The days get longer, the winds get warmer, and the world grows green again.

Spring teaches me to look more closely within myself and trust the green tendrils of possibility: the intuitive hunch that may morph into a larger insight, the glance or touch that may start to thaw a frozen relationship, the stranger’s act of kindness that makes the world seem like home again.

Late spring, with the world in full bloom, isn’t easy to write about. The season becomes so exuberant that it caricatures itself — which is why it has long been the province of poets with more passion than skill. Their poetry is sappy, but maybe that’s the point: why not embrace spring’s hyperbole? Life is not meant to be forever measured and meted as winter compels us to do. Most of the time it can and should be spent in a riot of generosity as we, like spring itself, throw caution to the winds. 

If we want to save our lives, we must spend them with abandon. When we’re obsessed with bottom lines and productivity, with efficiency of time and motion, with projecting reasonable goals and making a beeline toward them, it’s unlikely we will ever know the fullness of spring in our own lives.

By the way, where did we get that “beeline” thing? Just watch the bees in the spring — they flit all over the place, flirting with both the flowers and their fates. Yes, the bees are productive. But no science can persuade me that they are not dancing for the joy of it.

I’m guessing that deep inside their monastic hives, the bees have read Thomas Merton, who wrote,

We are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance.

So let’s listen to the music, catch the beat, get out on the dance floor, and bust some moves. It’s spring, people, and the general dance will soon be in full swing!”

The words of Parker J. Palmer, who just makes me smile.  

Hi, Northwest.  Since David called us to worship this morning, I have yet to introduce myself, but, in case you’re new to us, I am Rev. Misha Sanders, and I am honored and joyful and grateful that I get to be your senior minister here at NWUUC.  

And all this month, I get to talk to us about the theme of Grace.  It’s a big concept, grace, isn’t it?  Some of us are uncomfortable with it because it’s a very churchy kind of word, and many of us come to Unitarian Universalism very guarded in the places where religion and religious language has wounded us.  That’s a valid and understandable reaction, and I sure have had it myself around the word “grace” which I will preach more about next week with a rewrite of a sermon some of you have heard a version of, Amazing Grace for the Disgruntled.”  Never fear.  Disgruntled church people have a soft spot in my heart, because I often am one.  

So let’s just dive right in and talk about the Grace of Springtime, and what that might mean for even those among us who might love a good nature talk more than churchy talk.  

“There’s a miracle inside that muddy mess” Palmer said.  And, although he is a practicing Quaker, I don’t think Palmer was talking about the kinds of miracles that we skeptics have a hard time buying into.  

What I think Palmer was inviting us to notice is how the natural order of things requires some grace on our parts, some suspension of disbelief, some looking the other way at the muddy muck, if we are ever to notice the budding, the birthing, the beauty. 

I will tell you that I am having an especially hard time looking the other way with graciousness this season where pollen is concerned, how about you?  

And simultaneously, I am wiping away tears at some point nearly every day…not from allergy symptoms, but in sheer awe of all of the blooming things!  The wild wisteria makes me weepy.  The azalea bushes amaze me.  The daffodils delight me. The magnolias are gonna flat out take me to my knees this year with their magnificence, I am fully expecting it. 

And, friends, it might seem strange to attach the concept of grace to the wonders of nature in springtime, but I think it is more fitting perhaps this year than even other springs. 

I need to remind myself that springtime grace, or me, needs to extend beyond the pollen and beyond the yowling stray cats marking their territory on my Moxie cat’s porch because they’re looking for a date that won’t find in there.  

I need to be reminded that human beings are going to be coming out acting some kind of strange ways in the springtime too, and grace is in order.  

I am struggling with people shedding their masks too quickly, yes.  

I am appalled at Spring breakers behaving as though this pandemic has passed us over.  

We have just finished the passover season, but friends we know that the plague of death has not, in fact, passed us over as it did in the Jewish story. Not yet. 

But herein lies my need to keep myself safe while extending a little bit of grace.  

I remind myself that those of us receiving our vaccinations are, in fact, gradually, being in more places without masks, and that it is not always an action to judge as harshly as I sometimes do.  

I remind myself that our faith siblings in other traditions who are meeting in-person already are not actively trying to cause harm, in fact they are sometimes trying to keep their communities alive, although I strongly disagree with their methods.  

I remind myself that many of our youth throwing caution to the wind live with mental health concerns that have been exacerbated by over a year in isolation, and some of them feel they cannot miss out on human connection for any longer, risk or no risk.  

I remind myself that many have not been lucky and are tired of waiting to see elder loved ones they may not ever get to see again, unless it is soon. 

I remind myself that I myself have not done a perfect job of pandemic safety behaviors, as much as I’d like to pretend I’ve been pure and holy about it.  

I remind myself that I am privileged and I have been lucky.  

And. 

And, what I said last week remains true.  

We must still give each other the grace of more time until we can safely be together again.  We’re not giving grace to the idea of slacking off now.  

COVID-19 recognizes no grace period.  

It is hard for me to give grace to the truth that death is a part of Spring, too, how about you? 

As often as Spring is beautiful and serene, it is brutal and nearly unbearable, and yet we love it still.  

The poet Austin Smith wrote this in his poem, Country Things, but first I want to let you know that in the end, at least the bird and the cat are still okay.  I think hope is important:

Country Things

“Some days even nature seems sinister.
Walking around the farm with a beer,
Seeking some solace after the evening news,
You meet the cat you love coming back
From the windbreak, a rare songbird
In his mouth. In the mulberry branches
The silkworms writhe in nests that, backlit
By twilight, look like X-rays of lungs.
In the pasture the cow kicks at her calf
And won’t let her nurse, while in a seam
Of gleaming honey in the oak that lightning
Cleaved the queen daintily eats her offspring.
In the rafters of the barn the starlings are
Pushing the owls’ eggs out of the nest,
While the owl herself is out hunting.
Going in, you nearly step on a swarm
Of ants ravishing a butterfly like pirates
Tearing a capsized ship down, its wings
Like torn sails, and the first thing you hear
When you enter the kitchen is the snap
Of the mousetrap you set this morning,
Tired of being kept awake all night
By their scratching in the walls. And so
You are met with your own small act
Of cruelty, your contribution to the whole.
With a pair of pliers that are themselves
Always biting something, you take
The broke-necked mouse by the tail
And throw it into the darkening yard,
Never knowing that in favor of it the cat
Let go of the bird, who was only stunned,
And whose song you woke to this morning.”

I moved the tiniest little expired remains of a ring-necked snake off of the sidewalk at our beloved home in the woods near the front door of our sanctuary building earlier this week.  That was after I checked in on our bluebird houses and delighted in pictures of little bald hatchlings sent to me by Judy McKinley and by John McManus.  And, my goodness, friends, everything is just ablaze in blooming color, as many of us were able to witness a week ago at our drive-in Easter worship. 

Death and resurrection, all at the same time.  Spring does it all.  

And we don’t even have to try very hard to hold all kinds of natural opposing truths like those all at the same time in our open, generous hearts. 

What I hope the grace of springtime reminds us to take a little extra time to do is to extend that same loving grace to one another.  

I love that part where Parker Palmer said:

“Spring teaches me to look more closely within myself and trust the green tendrils of possibility: the intuitive hunch that may morph into a larger insight, the glance or touch that may start to thaw a frozen relationship, the stranger’s act of kindness that makes the world seem like home again.”

If we, Unitarian Universalists, are to fully embrace our seventh principle, which affirms that we are a part of an interdependent web of all existence, then we must first do the first things first…as in honoring our first principle, by affirming the inherent worth and dignity of every human being.  

Yes, even that guy with his mask around his neck instead of on his face at the CVS. Yes, even that shirtless kid bodysurfing through a crowd at a Florida beach on our TV screens.  Grace doesn’t mean saying nonsense is okay.  But grace says, I hope they get home safely, and that all will be well in their world, which is always…like it or not…inextricably linked to yours, and to mine.  

We breathe one another’s breath.  We bear one another’s burdens. An inextricable network of mutuality, Martin Luther King Jr. called it.  An interdependent web, we say.  We get liberated or we stay shackled together.  Some days, without a shadow of a doubt, I know for sure it is nothing but the grace of people that gets me a little closer to free.  A little closer to the blooming season, the growing season, the birthing season.  Just amazing grace, that’s all. 

George A Tyger wrote this prayer:

“Oh power of springtime,
Spirit of green grasses and warm breezes;
Goddess of creativity
of birth
of life renewed
You sing all about us at this time.
The birds call your sacred name.
Buds burst forth with your vestment.
The sun reaches higher into the sky
shining the light of this new day
through the windows of your cathedral,
this world.
Oh power of springtime
forgive us our speediness
and our racing before your
eternal grace
that we do not see
the miracle world we share.
Open our eyes with your warmth
and our hearts with your beauty
slow our minds with awe and wonder.
Dear Spirit of green grasses
and warm breezes;
let us find here
in these moment of quiet
the grace of your breath
as we breathe into our bodies
the spirit of spring.”

Our Justice team leader, David Zenner, will now lead us in our time of giving. 

Introduction of the Offering: David Zenner

Good Morning.  I’m Dave Zenner, the Justice Ministry Team Leader.

This April, Northwest supports Nicholas House with our Donate the Plate program. Nicholas House assists homeless families in making the transition from homelessness to self-sufficiency in a structured but home-like environment through one of several housing programs. Nicholas House is committed to assisting its families attain three goals that form the basis of self-sufficiency:

·         Earning a living wage;
·         Maintaining the physical, mental and social health of parents and children;
·         Maintaining safe and stable housing.

Nicholas House understands that providing basic subsistence – food and shelter – is necessary but not sufficient to prevent most homeless families from becoming homeless again.  That’s why Nicholas House provides wrap-around housing services, and follows families for up to two years after graduation from its programs to ensure that they remain self-sufficient and stably housed.

Please consider assisting with your financial support for these much-needed efforts by texting DONATENWUUC to 73256.

Josie Miller will now explain again how exactly to make your donation, and please remember to choose “Donate the Plate” from the donation options.

Offering: Josie Miller

Dedication of the Offering: David Zenner

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: Robert Niedermeyer

Let me remind us all to please stick around after our benediction and postlude for our congregational meeting. 

Our words of benediction today are by Rev. Charles Howe.

“May we go forth from this place thankful for the life that sustains and renews us,
and open to the grace that surrounds and surprises us.
May we go forth from this place with openness and with thanksgiving.”

Postlude: Jim Pearce “Go Lifted Up”