The Ocean Refuses No River

Sep 7th, 2008 • Category: Sermons - Rev. Charles Stephens, Minister Emeritus

Labor Day has come and gone. September is here. I like the rhythms of the seasons. The Gathering of Waters is an important ritual here at the Unitarian Universalist Church at Washington Crossing. It highlights the start of another church year. It symbolizes our flowing back together, together into an open and welcoming faith community

The ocean refuses no river…. no river. This phrase comes originally from a Sufi chant:

The ocean refuses no river, no river
The open heart refuses no part of me, no part of you.
I am one with all that is, one with all;
All that is is one with me, one with all.

The ocean refuses no river, no river, no river. We, like the ocean strive to be welcoming, inclusive and mutually respecting of our diverse paths, paths leading us together today. We welcome you to worship with us, fellowship with us, and work for justice with us, develop deeper with us in your emotional, spiritual and physical wellbeing.

I exhort us to be welcoming of all who walk through our doors:

Regardless of their spiritual or religious ideals;
Regardless of their political leanings, be they Democrat, Republican, Green, Lib. or something else;
Regardless of their gender or gender orientation;
Regardless of their racial or ethnic heritage;
Regardless of their economic or class status;
Regardless of the level of their formal education;
Regardless of their physical or emotional abilities.

We must remember, that the ocean refuses no river, no river, no river. From the tiniest clear and clean stream to a huge tumultuous torrent of muddy water – no river is refused. Like the ocean, we strive to be welcoming and inclusive. We strive to be mutually respectful of our differing paths. We as a congregation welcome you, and you, and you, each and every one of you. Like the Unitarian Universalist congregation in Knoxville, Tennessee where a shooter came into church, killing two and wounding others – we will not be intimidated by violence or threatening acts.

Our vision as a congregation is to “… be an inclusive faith community focusing our energy and resources on spiritual deepening thereby challenging us to become a dynamic and recognized force in our community(s)” We take that vision very, very seriously! So seriously, those five years ago, we intentionally wrote how we want to be treated within our inclusive faith community. We call it our “Covenant of Right Relations.” It is on the back of our order of service and we have recited it together Basically, it says we will treat one another with kindness and care, dignity and respect, speak truth as we experience it and yet earnestly and humbly listen to all points of view seeking understanding and wisdom when conflict occurs, as it always does, within human communities.

Many years ago, Pearl Buck wrote, “That River – it was full of good and evil together. It would water the fields when it was curbed and checked, but then if an inch were allowed it, it crashed through like a roaring dragon.” (The Old Demon)

So it is with human beings flowing together to create community. We too are full of good and evil together. We can nourish one another and those around us, but we can also crash into one another like a roaring river. I cannot say for everyone, but for me life is about:

Relationships and connections – the confluence of lives;
The flowing together in the intermingling stream of life;
Flowing down through the ages and across all boarders.

The Unitarian Universalist Church at Washington Crossing renews itself through the inclusive gathering of longtime members, tried and true friends and first time guests. Like water flowing to the ocean, we come again and again flowing together in the intermingling stream of life connecting us with Unitarian Universalists in Tennessee, Louisiana, Florida and Georgia (during present Hurricane threats) flowing down through the ages into the future and across nations to include people of all faiths. This happens on Sundays and many other times because we are thirsty and we need to be refreshed from this our nourishing community of faith, hope, love and action.

Dorothy Day wrote, “We are communities in time and in a place, I know, but we are communities in faith as well – … It’s a great “chain of being,” … (and) … our job is to do the best we can to hold up our small segment of the chain.”

It is not in our power to control the rivers or the oceans, but we need to be willing to receive their varied gifts. We can hold back the current of a stream or a river for a time, for a time, but eventually it will breach our controls. We can hold back the waves and the tides of the ocean for a time, again for a time, but eventually it will breach our controls as the recent hurricanes demonstrate.

The rivers, waves and tides are the waters response to the forces of the universe. So too, it is not in our power to control the stream of life, our own or that of others, these also respond to the forces of the universe and like water. They will definitely seek their own level.

We need to be heed the advice of Thomas Berry, “If the Earth does grow inhospitable toward human presence, it is primarily because we have lost our sense of courtesy toward the Earth and its inhabitants, our sense of gratitude, our willingness to recognize the sacred character of habitat, our capacity for the awesome, for the numinous quality of every earthly reality.”

It is wonderful that we are part of this large, powerful and wonderful interconnected web. Let us rejoice and be glad within it.

Closing Words

“Nothing in the world is more receptive and yielding than water. Yet at the same time, nothing can equal it in reshaping the inflexible and eroding the hard.” Tao Te Ching

Let us as a community of faith, hope, love and action be like water, receptive and yielding, so that in the same way, we will have no equal in reshaping the inflexible and eroding the hard, both within our congregation and as a dynamic and recognized force in our community(s).

Our Water Ceremony

Worship Associate:
Water, deep source, enriching the earth rushing, confronting, transforming this shore;

Water, nourishing source, crystalline beauty power-filled energy, rain on parched land;

Water, sweet source, linking the ages, stirring our memories, roots for our growth.

Water, cleansing the source, warm cauldron of our days for the love of life, that brings a sea-change;

Water, affirming message, nourishing our spirit, celebrate and bless, the new air we breathe.

Welcome back to the Unitarian Universalist Church at Washington Crossing as we mingle water, be it from our garden hose, the kitchen sink, the local river Let us remember this is our ceremony of ingathering, inclusivity and mutual respect.

September 7, 2008

Rev. Charles J. Stephens