"The Water of Life"
A Water Communion Intergenerational Service
Rev. Greg Ward
UU Metro Atlanta North
August 12, 2001
takes place primarily in the forest and the castle in an enchanted land
Props: Various hats to distinguish characters, handkerchief for the crying troll, loaf of bread and tin-foil sword,
Theme: We have a debt to be paid to this world for the life we are given. The debt is one of being earnest and the blessing it brings not only benefits us, but for all that we are connected to.
PRELUDE 279 By the Waters of Babylon
Storyteller: The Old King was ill. At first he didn’t believe he was as ill as he was. Then he tried to pretend he didn’t believe it. But finally, he knew it. In his bones, he knew. And he worried. He worried for the people of his kingdom. He worried for their well-being, for their family and the loved ones who depended on them, and he worried for the children. But mostly, he worried for his three sons, wondering if any of them had the strength, courage and vision to be king. No one knew better than he how many good decisions a king must make for a kingdom to be happy.
The Old King had lived a long time and he ruled over a very happy and prosperous land. Perhaps it was due to the great peace, safety and security the king had built up that none of his children every had to concern themselves with how the kingdom was run. They did show great ability in reading and writing and speaking in public like other kings. But the Old King couldn’t tell whether they understood what is most important about being a leader.
When the king fell ill, he sent for a wise sage to help him with this dilemma. The sage arrived, with a feathered hat and a purple coat and sat for tea where he and the king spoke at some length. Each spoke quietly and earnestly. Then, when the tea was gone, the sage rose from his chair, gathered his coat and his hat and, with a nod to the king, began to leave the castle.
On his way out the sage passed the king’s three sons who had seen the arrival of the sage and were curious of his message. "What business do you have with our father?" the first son asked.
"The king is ill and he yearns for the one thing that will cure what ails him."
"And do you know what that is?" demanded the second son.
"The king yearns for the Water of Life. It is water that has run through the streams of time through every generation. It is very difficult to find." And without another word, the strange man with the purple coat was gone.
Service Leader: Please join me in the unison chalice lighting found in your order of worship.
We light this chalice to see the one thing that will cure what ails the world around us, to know where to look for the water that heals us and how to carry it where it is needed most.
WELCOME AND ANNOUNCEMENTS
Service Leader: Good Morning!! My name is Greg Ward and I am the minister of this amazing institution. This morning, along with our Director of Religious Education, Karen LoBracco and our Man of a Thousand Faces, Joe Lewi, we welcome you to the Unitarian Universalist Metro Atlanta North Congregation for our annual ingathering Water Communion service….
STORY PART II
Storyteller: The proclamation of the sage continued to echo in the ears of each of the king’s sons. "The king is ill and he yearns for the one thing that will cure what ails him." Each of them began to contemplate their father’s illness, the possibility that he might soon die, the question of who will inherit the kingdom and the mysterious power of this ‘water of life.’
The eldest son, whose name was Gunther, thought of everything in terms of power. He saw the situation with his father as an opportunity for him to rise up and assume the role of king. He dreamt of wielding strong legions of soldiers and extending his domain further into the neighboring lands.
The second son, whose name was Garrett, became captivated by thoughts of glory. He understood the king’s illness as a way of propelling himself into leadership where he would be the object of respect and reverence. He dreamt of a time where the entire kingdom would kneel before him and shower him with affection and favor.
The third son, whose name was Earnest, was filled with sadness. No matter how he looked at the situation he could not overcome his grief that the king was getting weaker by the day and soon his own life might very well change in ways he could not imagine. He dreamt of a way to avert tragedy and restore the well-being of the kingdom.
As each of the young sons pondered their dilemma and were scratching at their chins, they heard the voice of their father calling to them from inside his chambers. Gathering beside the king’s bed, they listened, somewhat nervously, as the king spoke.
"As you know," the king spoke weakly, "I have fallen ill. And I am uncertain as to what to do. Not about dying. I know we all die and I have lived a good life. I am concerned about this kingdom and about you. How will the goodness we’ve built up be carried on. Who will rise up and help the people meet the challenges that face us?
"What of this mysterious ‘water of life’ the sage spoke of?" blurted out the eldest son. "Would this not assure us some power to deal with what ails us?"
"Indeed!" cried the second son. "Could it not also insure the glory of this kingdom will continue?"
"And return to you your health?" added the third son as the other two young men gritted their teeth.
"If what the sage has said is true," the king sighed, "then perhaps you are right. But I am not so sure that this ‘water of life’ will be what we imagine it to be. Whether it will cure what ails us without giving us other ills that are just as worrisome. Besides, it is what lay within our kingdom that makes the most difference for us, not what lay beyond."
But Gunther, still obsessed with the thought of power such water would grant its owner, begged his father to allow him to go in search of its source. So relentless was his argument, the king sadly let him go.
With the strongest horse, Gunther began his journey out of the kingdom. He had only made it to the bridge at the edge of the kingdom’s charter when he encountered the troll who lived there. The troll was not particularly handsome. And what made him even more difficult to face was the fact he was wailing in anguish. Tears streamed from his furry face. He sat in a small pool under the bridge and was known as the weeping troll.
"Where is it you are traveling and what are you after?" blubbered the troll with a sad look.
Gunther, certain that he did not want to share any of the power his reward might render was careful to dissuade the inquisitive troll. "What business is it of yours?" snapped the prince, and he rode off laughing.
Little did the eldest prince care that he offended the troll. Perhaps he would have cared more had he known the troll could cast magic spells. Such a spell did the troll impart on Gunther that he was to encounter a hundred fold what was most in his heart. It was within the next mile that the young prince was captured by a legion of armies to numerous to count. There he became a prisoner of all the power within his own aspirations.
When the eldest son did not return to the kingdom, Garrett begged the king to let him go in search of his brother and the elusive water of life. With persistence, he was also granted his leave. And riding the most impressive horse, it wasn’t long before he, too, met the weeping troll by the bridge.
"Where is it you are traveling and what are you after?" wept the troll as Garrett passed by.
Garrett, certain that he needed no one to share his glory with, took the opportunity to discourage the troll. "What’s it to you, little beast?" and he rode off laughing. Like his brother before him, he became enchanted to discover what was most in his heart. It wasn’t far from there that the second son wandered into an area where he was completely surrounded by the tallest of trees, the most spacious of mountains and the swiftest of rivers. All the natural glory imaginable, but so looming that it afforded him no room to turn around or even dismount from his horse. There he became a prisoner of his own aspirations.
Service Leader: I’m sure we can guess what happens next. By the time the second son did not return the king had fallen so ill, he could barely speak. The third son took it upon himself to find what his brother’s could not. Riding the most loyal of horses, Earnest went in search of the water. And in short time, he too, came across the weeping troll.
HYMN 210 "Wade in the Water"
HAND OF FRIENDSHIP
Service Leader: To listen, let someone know they are important, offer a smile and your own companionship. These things are of the greatest importance. Too often, however, we let our own preoccupations keep us from connecting with others who may need us. The hand of friendship is, for many, the most important part of our Sunday service. It reminds us to give that which can most often heal what ails those who are hurting: our attention. Let us reach out and offer one another the hand of friendship.
STORY PART III
Storyteller: As the youngest prince rode toward the troll, the weeping just became louder. The prince, taken back by the cries of sorrow, slowed his horse from its steady gate. As was his habit, the troll called out to the prince, "Where is it you are traveling and what are you after?"
Earnest got down from his horse and approached the troll. "My father, the king, is ill. I am in search of the water of life, which, we have heard, has great powers of healing.
"Do you know where to find this water?" asked the troll, still weeping.
"No," said the prince. "Just that it must be found and used wisely."
"I can tell from your concern and your willingness to talk with me that you are not vain, petty and self absorbed like your brothers. They were only concerned with their own power and glory. That is why they will never find the water of life. They won’t recognize it when they see it. But you are different. And because you are different, I will help you. The water of life can be found in the courtyard of an enchanted castle. But you will never get in unless you do these two things: first, pour this vial of tears on the lock of the gate surrounding the castle. Then, when the gate opens, you will find an enormous lion guarding the entrance. Feed him this loaf of bread. You must make haste to fetch the Water of Life before it strikes twelve, or the gates of the castle will close and you will be shut in."
The prince thanked the troll, took the tears and the bread and set off. When he reached the castle, all was as the troll had said. As the tears fell over the lock on the gate it snapped open and when the lion got hold of the bread his jaws snapped closed. The prince walked into the castle where he found dozens of other Princes who seemed to frozen in a magic spell. He took a sword and a loaf of bread that was laying next to them. In the next room he found a beautiful maiden, who rejoiced at his coming. She embraced him, told him of the spell that is cast over the castle for all who become over indulgent and delay the errands beckoning them. She pointed out that the good intentions he had brought had freed her and she promised to marry him and with him, share her kingdom when he finished in the duty he had come for. She then pointed to the courtyard where water flowed from a stone. "That is the Water of Life," she exclaimed. And she offered him a silver goblet and urged him not to tarry.
The prince was overjoyed with his good fortune. He had found the Water of Life, a beautiful princes and a kingdom to share. With this water he was hopeful he could arrest the illness of his father. Only one thing continued to bother him. His two older brothers still hadn’t returned. He worried for them.
When Earnest got back to the bridge at the end of his kingdom, he met the troll who was no longer weeping. The troll, seeing the prince with the water as well as the sword and the bread, congratulated him. "Well done!" he said. "The water will provide your father with what he needs; the sword will strike down entire armies and the bread will never come to an end despite how many take from it.
The prince was grateful for his good fortune. And still he worried for his lost brothers. "Good troll," he asked. "Can you not tell me where my brothers are? They went in search of the water of life before I did and still they have not returned.
The troll looked at the young prince. The troll wondered whether the prince’s older brothers should be saved. In their heart’s he could read deceit and ill will. He knew they were only interested in power and glory. But in the young prince who stood before him he saw worry and hope and love. He understood that some things were important enough to face ill will. Love is one of those things. And he knew that love is stronger.
JOYS AND CONCERNS:
Service Leader: Love and loyalty play hard on our heart. Although they bring us joy and purpose and meaning, they also bring us sadness and pain. We cannot control what happens to those we love. So it is important that we take time to grieve when others are hurting. To rejoice when they succeed. And to share these milestones with the people we know as friends.
Now is the time in the service where we speak of the people and events in our lives that require the care and concern of a greater community. Please give your healing attention to these candles of joy and concern.
STORY PART IV
Storyteller: The good troll released the spell he had cast on the brothers but warned the young prince, "Beware of them; they have bad hearts."
The young prince was glad to see his brothers and told them all that had happened to him; how he found the Water of Life and brought a goblet full with him. How he had released a beautiful princess who would wait for his return to marry him and share her kingdom with him.
Then they rode away to a land where famine and war were raging. There they waited and met the king who ruled the land. And the foreign king spoke to them of his fear that his kingdom would be destroyed.
Earnest went to him and gave him the loaf he carried and with it the king fed and satisfied his whole kingdom as well as the enemy army. And Earnest gave the king his sword which had the power to melt all the other weapons it came near. In only a few days the war ended and people began to live peaceably.
The three brothers rode on. But they had to pass through two more countries where war and famine were raging, and each time the Prince gave his sword and his loaf to the King, and in this way he helped save three kingdoms.
One evening, not far from home, they stopped for the night by a lake. The two older brothers talked while the young prince slept. "Our youngest brother found the Water of Life without us. If he gives it to our father, he shall be favored and become king. He will be taking our fortune away from us.
This thought turned their hearts bad and they made up their minds to get rid of their young brother. They crept up to him as he slept and they emptied the water of life from the goblet into their flask. And they replaced the goblet with sour lake water.
As soon as the three brothers returned home, Earnest felt excited that his long quest to bring the water to his father was realized. He ran up stairs eagerly to the bed where his father lay. He excitedly told his tales of the past months and placed the goblet at the lips of the king and had him drink. But practically before the king could even swallow a drop, the two older brothers barged into the room, snatched the goblet from his lips and began accusing their younger brother of trying to poison the king. The king began coughing fiercely and holding his throat. Until, that is, they put the flask they carried to his mouth. No sooner had he tasted the true Water of Life than he felt his strength returning and his illness beginning to fade.
Others heard from the elder brothers that their younger sibling tried to poison the king. Everywhere he went in the kingdom he was treated with contempt and forbidden from going near the king.
Later, the elder brothers went to their sibling and mocked him. "It was you who found the Water of Life; you endured all the trouble, while we have the reward. You should have been wiser, and kept your eyes open; we stole it from you while you were asleep. Father will surely give us the kingdom and cast you out. When the time comes, we will ride out to bring away the beautiful princess and enjoy the glory of her kingdom. And you cannot tell father any of what you know because he will not listen to you. Silly good-hearted Constantine. When will you learn?"
Service Leader: When we have something that gives life, we have the power to give a greater life to those around us. But eventually we discover that how we give is as important as what we give. If we, ourselves, wish to have a greater life we need to learn to give lovingly. Let us give so that ourselves and others may know greater love and live better lives.
STORY PART V
Storyteller: The anger and the distrust grew within the kingdom. Few, if any, would speak to Earnest and the many people within the kingdom sought to serve the king by keeping his son away. So strictly did they believe this that, without the king’s knowing, they assembled a royal court to cast judgment on the young prince. It was decided by royal decree that he must be removed from the kingdom… permanently!
One day, when the Prince was out walking, thinking no evil, the King’s huntsman was ordered to go with him. Seeing the huntsman look sad, the Prince said to him, "My good huntsman, what is the matter with you?"
The huntsman answered, "I can’t bear to tell you, and yet I must. I am to shoot you dead. It is the order of the court."
The Prince fell horror stricken and, in tears, asked the huntsman to give him his life. He asked if the huntsman would be willing to take his cloak and pretend to keep the order of the court.
"I would gladly do so," answered the huntsman. I don’t think I could have killed you. I have always known you to be a good man.
The prince stayed away from the kingdom for a long while. During that time, however, packages began arriving for him. Enormous packages with large amounts of gold and precious stones. They continued to come for many months and they were sent by Kings whose kingdoms were saved by the prince’s magic sword and the miraculous loaf of bread. Now, living in better times, they wished to show their appreciation.
The old king rejoiced. All the while he had wanted to believe in his son’s innocence and was told he was foolish by the people who surrounded him. He thought back over the events of his son’s return and remembered Earnest trying to tell him about the adventures he’d experienced while away. "What if it was all true?" wondered the Old King. "What if my son really was innocent?" he wondered. And then he became horrified, thinking of the order of the court.
"How sorry I am that it is so easy for people to believe in the worst about others. If only he were still alive." the king lamented.
"But he is still alive," said the huntsman. "I could not find it in my heart to carry out the court’s order." And he told the king of what had taken place.
A load fell from the king’s heart on hearing the good news, and he sent out a proclamation to all parts of his kingdom that his son was to come home, where he would be received with great favor.
"This day shall be a lesson to us," spoke the king. "If our kingdom is to survive, we must become more familiar with goodness so that we recognize it in others and in ourselves. So familiar that we know all its ways and instantly recognize false goodness. So familiar that we join together with the good around us, create peace and watch justice roll like water through the ever-flowing stream of life."
HYMN 121 We’ll Build a Land
"Come build a land where sisters and brothers, anointed by God may then create peace
where justice shall roll down like waters, and peace like an ever flowing stream."
These words to the hymn weren’t written into the story. They may not have made the final cut. They may never have even crossed the Brothers Grimm’s minds when they wrote it. But, I think, they sort of sum up something of what was in Earnest’s heart.
And this, we know, is quite different than the words written on the heart of his two brothers. What was the difference between them? Why did they behave so differently?
It has been said that the most religious of all questions is the query to thy self: "What ought I to do?" And though most children are far from being able to articulate such a question, it weighs on their mind nonetheless. And they seek answers.
We have a hard enough time with such a question, and we consider it every day. What ought we to do? For answers we often look to our spouses, our friends, our church. But the place where most of us get the bulk of our leanings is from our family. Specifically the way our parents did things and their parents, and their parents… Largely, with some changes initiated over the years, I carry with me a lot of the habits of the Wards from generations back. These ways are our ways.
But what about children? Where do they seek? Sure, they look to their parents. And teachers. And the world. And there they get a lot of answers. But one of the best places they have to check their answers has always been with stories. And not stories that lecture and posit only predictable moral edicts. But stories that explore. Stories that meander. That offer possibilities. That allow us to choose.
As children, stories with choices are enticing. We are attracted to them. We hear them and will ask for certain ones over and over because, in some way, they help provide some small insight into some big questions we have about the world. "What ought I to do?"
As a child, I did read the Brother’s Grimm. But it was not my favorite. The book I kept pulling from the shelf, over and over, was "Curious George." Whereas that may say something revealing about my own early personality, it says much more. Through George, I identified with a great fascination with the world, a desire to explore, a yearning toward adventure, a need to be my own… monkey. And yet, like George, there was always a fierce loyalty I felt to something else. Something good. Something true. Something Earnest. The man in the yellow hat.
All children look for certain figures in a story. They look for figures they are familiar with. Figures that exhibit ‘our ways.’ Figures like their family or parents. Figures that care, who are good, who make good choices. Figures we can be loyal to. Figures like the man in the yellow hat.
And children look for figures they can identify with. They choose which characters they can emulate who are most likely to lead them to what is familiar, what is like their family. They choose between characters like Gunther or Garrett or Earnest asking ‘what ought I to do?’ They look to these stories because they recognize the importance of their choices. The importance of living out, ‘our ways.’ Or as Oscar Wilde would say, ‘the importance of being Earnest.’
It’s important to understand that these stories were told and repeated in villages to support the traditions of the families who made up the villages to help teach their ways. They were told so the children would always keep an eye cast on the family ways and make choices that help carry on their ways. It is like the king yearning for someone to step up and lead the kingdom. And when we learn to keep an eye on those good ways we find the reward we sought.
The end of today’s story is like that. It ends by explaining what happens with the three sons; what they learn to keep their eyes on and what choices they make because of it. It tells about the princess who, awaiting the prince, orders a road to be built leading to the castle made of solid gold. She ordered that those people who approached the castle riding on the left or the right side of the road should have a spell cast on them holding them frozen in time like the other princes in the courtyard. Only he who approached riding in the middle of the road should be allowed entrance.
When Gunther made his way to find the princess, he looked down and noticed the gold road. Having his eyes on power he thought of gold as power and dared not ride over it. He rode to the right side of the road and when he approached the castle a spell overtook him so that he could not move. Garret approached in a similar way. Seeing only with eyes for glory, he saw the gold as too glorious to ride over. He approached on the left side of the road and also fell prey to the spell.
But when Earnest approached, all he could think of was the love he held for the woman he sought and did not even notice the gold on the road. He took his horse right down the middle of the entrance to the castle and, there, he met his wife.
What ought we to do? How do we choose to be Earnest? In the book of Micah, God explores the question with those who seek him:
"With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on High?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgressions, the fruit of my body for the sins of my soul?
He has told you, O mortal, what is good and true: To do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with the God."
Those are our ways. The ways that lead back to the king, the ancestors of our village, the man in the yellow hat.
To the Glory of Life.
This Unitarian Universalist faith we celebrate recognizes many ways and many sources of truth but tries to unite them within one community. We too look to the stories of our lives to make our choices, keeping an eye on our individual histories even as we celebrate them together knowing that our many ways merge and mingle to form larger more universal truths.
In this water communion ritual we each carry and contribute the water of life, as we know it, to the common well of community. I ask you now to come forward with your water, symbolic of your heritage and as you pour some into the bowl, speak aloud the places of birth or the places from which you draw your ways.
WATER COMMUNION CEREMONY
CLOSING HYMN 100 I’ve Got Peace Like a River