Isten Egy "God is One"

From Matthew 5 NRSV  Excerpts from the Sermon on the Mount

14You are the light of the world.

A city built on a hill cannot be hid.

No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket,

  but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all the house.

In the same way, let your light shine before others,

  so that your good works may be seen….

READING     Dirk J. Louw, University of the North, South Africa Ubuntu: An African Assessment of the Religious Other

Ubuntu (a Zulu word) serves as the spiritual foundation of African societies. It is a unifying vision or world view enshrined in the Zulu maxim umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu, i.e. "a person is a person through other persons" (Shutte, 1993:46).. [i]

Desmond Tutu has said,

Ubuntu is the essence of being human. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong. … A person with Ubuntu is welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous, willing to share. Such people… know that they are diminished when others are humiliated, diminished when others are oppressed, diminished when others are treated as if they were less than who they are. The quality of Ubuntu gives people resilience, enabling them to survive and emerge still human despite all efforts to dehumanize them.”

In 1531, barely a decade after Martin Luther sparked the Protestant Reformation, there was a young Spaniard named Michael Servetus who published a small book called On the Errors of the Trinity.  In it, he argued there was no evidence in the Bible that Jesus had been divine, nor was there evidence that the Bible mentioned the Trinity – God as father, son, and holy spirit.  Servetus’ book was condemned, confiscated and burned – by the Catholics, the Lutherans, and the Calvinists.  Servetus himself came to be burned at the stake in Geneva.

But the ideas of Servetus and other heretical writers began to spread, taking hold in parts of eastern Europe.  They caught the attention of a young pastor named Francis Davíd, who became the founder and hero of Hungarian and Transylvanian Unitarianism.

Dávid helped inspire the first edict of religious tolerance in Europe, issued in 1568 by King John Sigismund of Transylvania.

King John Sigismund had gathered clergy at Torda in an attempt to try, through reasoned conversation, to resolve the main points of theology on which Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, and Unitarians differed.

This proved impossible at Torda in 1568, just as it has throughout the rest of western history.  Instead, Sigismund issued an edict of toleration, that declared that his people could practice the religion that agrees with their understanding.

It applied only to the four Christian faiths:  Catholicism, Lutheranism, Calvinism and Unitarianism.  But it was still revolutionary.  Many theologians were still praising John Calvin for burning Michael Servetus at the stake 30 years earlier.[ii] 

The period of tolerance didn’t last past Sigismund’s death.  Francis Davíd was eventually tried and imprisoned.  He died in prison in 1579, becoming the Transylvanian martyr to Unitarianism. 

Unitarianism surfaced again in England and her American colony, a response in part to Enlightenment thinking.  Throughout the 19th century, many of its leaders and members remained open to new theological sources, to progressive social thinking and causes, to less conventional ways of  “doing church.”  Some Unitarian Universalists today are Christians – many more are culturally Christian.  Our roots are in Christianity, but our faith movement as a whole has gone in a many different directions.

During this year, the 450th anniversary year of Sigismund’s edict of tolerance, men and women from Unitarian and UU congregations around the world have been meeting in dialogue exploring their differences and commonalities. 

As faith communities, what shapes who we are and what we believe?  What binds us together and what separates us?  What do we share, beyond a common name?  How can we support and draw inspiration from one another?

This past June, UU ministers gathered in Kansas City before General Assembly were treated to a panel that included ministers from Unitarian or Unitarian Universalist congregations from around the world.  I want to give you a flavor of those conversations – and I’ve chosen to share the thoughts of two of the presenters.[iii]

Rev. Norbert Racz (RAHKS) is the Senior Minister of the First Unitarian Church, in Kolozsvár, Transylvania.

He focused mostly on the first question – as Hungarian/Transylvanian Unitarians, what shapes who we are and what we believe. 

Norbert named three sources:  Scripture, tradition and the present.

Scripture, he says, is not verbatim revelation.  It is, as most modern liberal religious people believe, a collection of different texts written by people at different times.  And it is also, he says sacred – the word of God or inspired by God.

Scripture provides meaning and inspiration when we both understand its historical meaning AND when we “re-tell the story in the present.” 

TRADITION is the next source – a large, mixed stew that begins with Judeo-Christian origins and includes many chunks of other elements of western culture. 

Tradition also encompasses the ethnic and political traditions of the Hungarian peoples.  “We are,” he says in his wonderful Hungarian accent, “a nation with a violent history, many revolutions and fallen heroes, poets who have died of hunger and scholars who have been banished only to be treated as heroes when they are dead.”

And then, tongue in cheek,  “We are people who whistle ancient cheerful songs in the face of calamity.  Our God is similar – someone who will share a palinka with us – a bit gloomy but benevolent parent.”

The third defining factor of Hungarian Unitarianism is what Norbert calls  “THE PRESENT.” This, he says, is “reason put to work by science – what we use, as Unitarians and UUs from different parts of the world, when we try to figure out what we share.

And what is the source of morality?  We can imagine ethics without religion, he says, but we cannot imagine religion without morality.  We are all children of the same God, temporary visitors to the world, with duty to the god who sent us here. 

God, he says, (and I think this is not the palinka drinking one) is the god of continuous creation – and to live in duty to God is to be moral. 

Where are the commonalities between your own understanding of Unitarian Universalism and what Norbert describes?

 “Let your light shine before others.” 

We have a president who openly brags about assaulting women, and a supreme court nominee who is fighting with cruel contempt against a woman who has had the courage to come forward and tell her own story of assault.  This week, we might need to take inspiration from the words of that long-ago Galilean prophet, as well as from the courage and conviction of our Transylvanian friends, from a heritage of courage in the face of scorn and persecution. 

Do you agree with Norbert that religion cannot be conceived separate from morality?  If you are not a theist, you may not agree that being moral means living in duty to God.  What links morality to being religious – for you? 

Here’s another story – a very different perspective on Unitarian Universalism – from Fulgence Ndagijimana.  Fulgence founded the UU Church of Burundi in 2002.  He was speaking to us via skype.

The African country of Burundi was first colonized by the Germans, in the mid 19th century, and later, after WWI, handed over to Belgium.  The Germans had made some attempts to convert the Burundian peoples to Lutheranism.  The Belgian missionaries went all out for the Catholic church. Burundi is reported by the CIA to be 86% Christian, and nearly 2/3 of those are Roman Catholic.

Fulgence was raised Catholic.  He said this:

Imagine going to a worship service:  you understand the words but you can’t connect to the higher power.  You can’t connect to many of the images and stories in the sermon.  I got active at a young age in church social activities and admired the social justice activities of the church.  But the teachings, songs, and concepts had nothing to do with anything familiar with me or that I could connect with. 

I sang youthful songs in praise of Jerusalem.  I read psalms about four seasons in a country that had two.  I felt, always, that I was worshipping someone else’s god.  All the images of Jesus, Mary and the saints were white except the devil which was black. 

I celebrated Christmas, the season of the shortest, coldest days, when where I lived the days were the same length.  I celebrated Easter as the coming back of life to the barren earth, when March and April are the greenest months of the year.

When the missionaries came, they took the name of the god people worshipped, and gave that name to the white man’s god.  They gave the people’s god a different name.  What resulted was confusion and disorientation.

Fulgence said that the sources of his former religious tradition were like Norbert’s:  the bible, tradition and the magisterium (the authority and laws of the Catholic church).  But, he continued,

As I moved beyond that I needed to expand my sources – to other texts, to my conscience, experience, family, reason, strangers and the community.  My discovery of Unitarian Universalism was a saving grace. 

I tried to connect it to a language people could connect with, because people were still looking for a predetermined model.  And so Ubuntu helped me connect to elements of my culture – the essence of being human:  I am what I am because of who you are. 

I found Ubuntu as a way to connect my spiritual life with concepts that made sense, and made sense to the people I came to serve.   “I belong, therefore I am.”  The god of my ancestors was encountered in rituals done in community.  God is expressed only in relationships.  When we are called to pray – we must make sure that all people can pray –

In my country we need to explore what is right and possible to us.  We need others to respect that.  And that is what we were doing, in our church.

In October 2015, Fulgence told us, he was kidnapped, tortured and jailed by the Burundi government. 

No one knew where I was for 24 hours.  Finally, I convinced a guard to lend me his phone and I contacted members of my family and the congregation.  Many people endangered themselves by coming the next day to see me.   For nine days they stayed outside my prison cell all day.

“Was it bravery?” he went on.  “Hard to know.  It was the result of a belief that my fate is inexorably linked to theirs.  There is evil when people choose what is easy over what is right, when the lives of the few are privileged over the lives of many.  When people believe our lives are not connected.”

Fulgence was freed after an international campaign of letter-writing and petitions, and he fled the country, finding asylum in Canada. He now lives and preaches in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

What strikes you in Fulgence’s story? 

What commonalities do you find between his Unitarian Universalism and Norbert’s ?  Between Fulgence’s and your own?  I think of all the people who come here looking for spiritual community, not sure what they are looking for.  People who have been disoriented or unwelcome or shamed in other religious settings, in the churches in which they were raised.

“There is evil when people choose what is easy over what is right, when the lives of the few are privileged over the lives of many.  When people believe our lives are not connected.”

Eric Cherry writes that the greatest gift in sharing our global faith is “the fortification of our own hope,” the healing of our own broken hearts.

Where is the light of the church when the lamps are taken down? 

14You are the light of the world.
A city built on a hill cannot be hid.
No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket,
  but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all the house.
In the same way, let your light shine before others,
  so that your good works may be seen….


[i] Dirk J. Louw, University of the North, South Africa Ubuntu: An African Assessment of the Religious Other

[ii] Source is Earl Morse Wilbur’s History of Unitarianism

[iii] This panel discussion, held in June just prior to the UUA General Assembly, is available online at