Updated: Mar 30
Recording of our March 28, 2021 online Passover worship service
Good morning and welcome to Birmingham Unitarian Church! I’m Abby Schreck, today’s Worship Associate. Today’s service is led by Rabbi Ma’ayan Sands, from Temple B’nai Shalom in Braintree Massachusetts, as well as our Co-Directors of Music Ministry, Abha and Steven Dearing. We also have technical support from our Communications Coordinator, Sara Constantakis and Zoom Greeter Drieka DeGraff.
BUC is a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Even in our virtual format, we are a thriving community with a place for everyone. Social justice is an essential component of our church life. We are a capital “W” Welcoming Congregation and a Green Sanctuary Congregation. Our social justice work this year is focused on environmental action, economic inequality, civic engagement, and racial inequality.
Our worship services are hosted on Zoom every Sunday morning at 10:30 and then later posted on our website and our Facebook page. After the service, we invite you to stay for virtual coffee hour. If you are worshiping with us for the first time today, we extend a special welcome to you.
We have four announcements this morning:
This Wednesday, March 31 at 7:00 pm, the Environmental Action Committee invites you to “Earth-Friendly Gardening: The Secret Is the Soil!,” an engaging walk through the garden of earth-friendly practices. Our presenter is BUC member Lillian Dean, a long-time educator in this field. Lillian will be TALKING to us about home-garden practices for biodiversity, soil health, and environmental protection and also about how the BUC prairie and woodland can serve as a measure of biodiversity and other factors. Zoom access info for Wednesday’s session is on the calendar.
This Thursday evening, April 1, three Oakland University professors of sociology and criminal justice will help us rethink the criminal justice system. The current system disproportionately affects people of color and low income. What changes could transform a system bent on punishment and profit to one that serves public safety and well-being in a just manner for all people? Join us Thursday at 7:00 p.m. You’ll find the Zoom link on the BUC calendar.
The Stewardship Campaign is underway for the upcoming fiscal year. Stewardship takes many forms and we build love in this community in many ways. However, we cannot ignore that we need financial support to sustain our facilities and staff and to engage in our events, programs and worship activities. Please do your part by pledging before April 1.
We will be ending coffee hour at 11:45 today so we can start today’s session of Getting to Know Unitarian Universalism at 12:00 noon. Led by the Membership Team, Getting to Know UU is great for newcomers, those considering membership, or anyone interested in learning more about their own beliefs as well as those of others in this faith, and this community. To join today’s session, you’ll use a different Zoom link than the one you’re using for this service, and that link is on our calendar.
Thank you for joining us this morning, or whenever you’re watching this. Although we are not together physically, we are together in spirit, and it is good to be together again.
And now our service will begin.
“Out of the Flames” by Sara Eileen LaWall
read by Abby Schreck
Out of the flames of fear
We rise with courage of our deepest convictions
to stand for justice, inclusion and peace
Out of the flames of scrutiny
We rise to proclaim our faith
With hope to heal a fractured and hurting world
Out of the flames of doubt
We rise to embrace the mystery, wonder and awe
of all there is and all that is yet to be
Out of the flames of hate
We rise with the force of love
Love that celebrates our shared humanity
Out of the flames we rise
The mission of Birmingham Unitarian Church is to create a free and welcoming religious community that encourages lives of integrity, learning, service, and joy. The weekly offering serves as an ongoing reminder of this mission. Sharing in this weekly practice of generosity also strengthens the bonds between congregants and our high purpose. So let there be an offering in support of this Beloved Community and our good works. Contributions can be made through our website, Venmo (username @BUCmi), or a check in the mail. However you choose to give, please do so with a heart of gratitude and for each other.
Joys and Sorrows
We have come to the point in our service that we set aside for Spiritual Practices. One of the ways Unitarian Universalists live out our faith is in sharing our Joys and Sorrows. Though we have no submitted joys or sorrows this week, let us hold each other in our hearts.
"Until 'All' Means All" by Erika A. Hewitt
read by Abby Schreck
The chalice, as a symbol of Unitarian Universalism,
arose as a beacon of hope in an atmosphere of tyranny.
The chalice arose as a sign of promise
that the marginalized would neither be forgotten nor ignored,
because they are beloved and precious from the perspective of the Holy.
This morning, we remember all of the people
who have been told explicitly—
or implicitly, through police violence or government policy;
through derision or dehumanization;
that they’re anything less than whole; anything less than beloved.
As we each light a chalice in our homes,
may we make of our lives a beacon:
a symbol of our promise to draw the circle wide;
a sign that we will not rest until “all” means all.
by Rabbi Ma’ayan Sands
“Speaking Truth to Power”
I’ve heard the term “speaking truth to power” from my younger, progressive colleagues. I never understood exactly what it meant… until this year, when preparing for Passover, I looked closely at the text in the first chapter in the book of Exodus.
Wikipedia tell us: “Speaking truth to power is a non-violent political tactic, employed by dissidents against the received wisdom or propaganda of governments they regard as "oppressive… authoritarian...” or even “immoral.” Beginning in Chapter 1 vs 8, in the book of Exodus, we see 6 superb examples of “speaking truth to power.” All of them are women! They are barely mentioned in the Torah text. Some remain nameless. But each one, in her own way, defied the immoral and unjust voices of power around her, by doing what she knew to be right, in the circumstances of the moment.
The story is familiar. You may recognize it as the beginning of the Passover story. A new Pharaoh arose in Egypt. The Israelites had become very numerous. He was afraid they would overpower him and turn against him, in his own land. He enslaved them with forced labor. They continued to grow in number. Pharaoh made a decree that all Hebrew baby boys should be killed at birth. Enter Shifra and Puah, the Hebrew midwives; two women whose work in the world was the giving of life. We aren’t told much about them except they are God fearing women, which, according to my teacher Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld, “means nothing more and nothing less than that they had respect and awe for the dignity and sanctity of all life.” At great danger to themselves they defied Pharaoh. They acted according to what they knew was right. They chose life for every Hebrew baby born. Without them there would not have been a Moses. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z”l (of blessed memory) wrote: “they provided the first recorded instance of one of Judaism’s greatest contributions to civilization: the idea that there are moral limits to power. There are instructions that should not be obeyed.” Shifra and Puah courageously continued their work of helping women give birth. They taught us the primacy of conscience over conformity. All life is sacred.
When Pharaoh’s first plan did not work, he charged all his people, saying, “Every [Hebrew] boy that is born you shall throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.” It is here we meet our third heroine who, in her own way, spoke or acted in defiance of Pharaoh’s immoral decree. It is Yocheved, wife of Amram and mother of the three people who would become the great leaders of the Israelites: Miriam, Aaron and Moses, himself. Even after the decree of death, Yocheved had the courage to have a child. She hid Moses for three months, and then devised a plan to give him a chance of being rescued. But she didn’t do it alone. Miriam, Moses’s older sister, is the 4th female voice of resistance, courage, creativity and determination in our story. Miriam had hope and faith. We see in her, spiritual, emotional and psychological strength-and commitment to life, and to God. She is not introduced as anybody’s wife or mother. She is a sister and a prophetess; entrenched in her faith, always willing to take a proactive role. She demonstrates an unusual fearlessness and presence of mind. Rabbinic tradition defines her character even further. In Midrash (interpretation of Torah text, we read, hearing about the decree that every male Israelite baby would be drowned in the river: Amram led the Israelite men in divorcing their wives so no more children would die by Pharaoh’s decree. Miriam, so tradition tells us, argued with her father. “Your decree,” she said, “is worse than Pharaoh’s. His affects only the boys; yours affects all.” Amram relented, and as a result, Moses was born. Miriam defied Pharaoh and his decree, nd she was not willing to rely on God to solve this problem. She stood up and acted against what she knew was morally wrong. It was she who kept watch over the child as the ark in which his mother had put him, floated down the river. And Miriam, the daughter of slaves, approached the Princess, Pharaoh’s daughter, with the suggestion that he be nursed among his own people.
Which brings me to the 5th and perhaps most intriguing of the unexpected female voices who both spoke and acted against the decree of Pharaoh. She is introduced with no name, no personal identification; only as “Pharaoh’s daughter.” It is, much later, in a commentary she is given the name Bat-ya, meaning daughter of God. The commentary relates, she received that name from God as reward for her actions. Not only was Batya able to defy the will of her father, the Pharaoh, but she was able to see beyond the lines of race, class, nationality, religion. She reached out to rescue the baby she must have known was the child of Israelite slaves. She responded with grace and appreciation when Miriam offered “to call a nursing woman from the Hebrews” to nurse the child for her. It was she who named the baby Moses meaning “for I drew him out of the water.” Despite that Moses is not a Hebrew name, it remained with him throughout his life. Some say, “it is because of Batya’s deep and abiding… love for Moses--the love of a mother for a child…” Moses brought Batya close to God. Because she treated Moses as a son, we are told God treated her as a daughter. She saved Moses’s life from Pharaoh’s edict of death. Later, we are told in commentary, Moses saved her from God’s decree during the plagues, that all Egyptian first born shall die. (She was the firstborn of Pharaoh.)
Tzipporah, Moses’ wife, is the 6th female heroine in this story. Like the others, she is barely seen and her voice is not heard. We know only she is the daughter of a Midianite Priest.
God told Moses to return to Egypt. With the help of Aaron and God, he was to persuade Pharaoh to let the people go out of Egypt to serve their God. Tzipporah was determined to accompany Moses on his mission to Egypt, despite that she had no reason to risk her life on such a hazardous venture. In a bizarre and difficult to interpret passage, it was she who saved Moses’ life. The medieval commentator Rashi understands God was angry and ready to kill Moses because he had not circumcised his son, Eliezer. Tzipporah understood circumcision was an essential sign of identification among Hebrews, according to God's covenant with Abraham. In the desert, she took a piece of flint and circumcised their son. The impression we have of Tzipporah is of a strong, determined woman with insight and determination. At that crucial moment, she had a better sense of what God required than Moses himself.
Shifra, Puah, Yocheved, Miriam, Batya, and Tzipporah were leaders not because of any official position they held. (In the case of Batya she was a leader who spoke truth to power, despite her official title as a princess of Egypt). These women played pivotal, redemptive roles. They were leaders because they had courage and conscience. “They refused to be intimidated by power or defeated by circumstance.”
I lifted up the stories of these women because their relationship to the birth of the nation of Israel is generally not the focus of these chapters--but without them it wouldn’t have happened. Though they did not have official authority and power, they demonstrated strong leadership, precisely in the moments it was called for.
What would they want us to remember of the lessons they taught? Yocheved (Moses’ mother) might want to remind us to listen to our hearts, which will tell us what is true, and then act on it. Miriam (Moses’ sister) might hope we find God in all people. She would encourage us to express gratitude and create joy, in everything we have; and to lead our communities in song and in dance. Batya. (Pharaoh’s daughter) would encourage us to stretch out our arms and gather the abundance that lies in unexpected places, just a bit beyond our reach. Each of us is made in the image of God, she might say, regardless of our differences. Shifra and Puah, the Hebrew midwives, implore us to embrace each human soul, in all of its diversity; to have respect and awe for the dignity and sanctity of all living things, including the environment. Tziporrah, Moses’ wife, would advise us to hold dear our own sense of the Divine and to reflect the spark of the Divine we see in each other. She would urge us to follow our own wise instincts; to know we answer to a “higher authority,” not an earthly mortal one.
Help us strive to see the spark of the divine in all the people with whom we surround ourselves. Take in their love, even as we give our own. Attend to the caregiving that needs to be done and let yourself be cared for. Bring joy, laughter and love into your lives, regardless of what is going on in the larger world! AND be patient with yourself when you just can’t get there, yet.
Amen, let it be so.