Copyright Sarah Person
Delivered March 24, 2013 First Unitarian Universalist Society of Middleboro
I am about to violate one of the canons of our liberal faith; you know, the one in which I am supposed to say that “a church is not a building, a church is the people.” Well, that is true. But one of the many handy and good reasons I felt called to ministry is that I love these buildings. I love the architecture of holy places. I love arches and carved wood and the way the music fills the room and the warm light plays over everything. I have visited churches and cathedrals, synagogues and temples, mosques and gurdwaras. I have walked in groves of trees fashioned into chapels by the hand of nature herself. When I am in a place like this, a place where the vision of the congregation was real, and the hands of the builders were true, the sanctuary is a testament to love: Love for one another, love for whatever we call divine, whatever we hold most dear, love enough to bring it all together in one place.
I have visited Paris and climbed the steps to the Basilica of Sacre Coeur and heard the nuns sing vespers, and I have gazed in awe at Notre Dame, and Sainte Chapelle. The great Basilica and the cathedrals had been built centuries apart, but one’s sense of them was the same: the sense of great yearning to bring heaven down to earth. The light in the medieval cathedrals is dim and gray until you raise your eyes and see a flash of gold leaf or marble. Raise your eyes further and you see incredible stained glass windows, many stories high, with individual panes of saturated colors that, together, make up a scene from a story. Expand your focus and those stories are combined to tell a chapter, then a book of the bible or a bit of history. Pull back altogether and the window itself is a geometric design of light. Sainte Chapelle in particular is like being inside a magnificent jewel box. It is amazing; this intricate detail everywhere you look. Every pane of glass, every cut of stone and marble, every curl of iron, speaks of great precision and art. They also speak of great cooperation – each separate and perfect piece combining to make the whole. After a while, we look beyond the grandeur in these ancient places and see the labor of the centuries; the artisans and carpenters and masons and sculptors and architects who took such pride in these soaring creations that we marvel at them still.
I have not been to the great 800-year-old Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres, but another one of my colleagues who loves these places as much as I do wrote about his visit and I want to share his words with you. He is Rev. Patrick T. O’Neil, and this is what he saw:
“Not far inside the cathedral I found myself standing at the foot of one soaring, magnificent window, with hundreds of pieces of mosaic glass of all colors. It seemed to recount the entire Old Testament; it was so elaborate and exquisite. At the very bottom of the window there was a small frame that showed a cobbler, a shoemaker huddled over his worktable.
Our guide saw me studying this image. “This is the Shoemaker’s Window,” he explained. “It was installed in 1201, and is considered one of the most beautiful of all. It was a gift from the shoemakers of every village in France, who each contributed whatever they could, even the smallest coins, to commission this work of art for God’s house.”
The royalty and the wealthiest nobles of France, he continued, gave some of these windows, but this window was a gift of the shoemakers. Another window was given by village water-carriers from all over France. Butchers gave another. Fishmongers gave one. Vine-growers and tanners gave windows in the same manner. As did masons, and furriers, and drapers, and weavers, coopers, and carpenters and cartwrights. The blacksmiths gave a window, and the milliners gave one, and the apothecaries gave one, too. “These windows, many of them,” said my guide, “were given one mosaic at a time, piece by piece, coin by coin, by people who wanted to contribute something beautiful to last the ages.” 
Contribute something beautiful to last through the ages. Each piece coming together to make a perfect whole. There is a line in the Book of Matthew where Jesus says “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” He was referring to heaven, but all of us ordinary people have a need to make heaven on earth and mold something of our hearts into a thing of beauty. A church is not a building, but in a way it is. We are pieces that come together in essence to make something greater than ourselves that will last; something that testifies to our commitment to one another and to the place we have chosen as our spiritual home, and to the wide welcome we offer to the world.
Our society has been in Middleboro for almost 125 years. We don’t create magnificent jewel boxes, we create hope. There is indeed a piercing need for the dream we mold with our own hands, and for the dawn we can create for ourselves, our children and our communities. We create a place of hope in a wilderness of fear and superstition. We create a place of curiosity instead of criticism. We create a place of acceptance that we are all in a universal struggle to be good and sane in a world that can be neither. We create a place where we tear down walls instead of building battlements. We create a place where remorse cannot be catechized away but must be owned and forgiveness earned between one another. We create a place for nourishing laughter and anguish and joy and meaning. We create children and men and women of conscience and compassion. We create a testament to love. We come together, with all of our gifts, and all of our histories, to make something lasting that is truthful and real and powerful. “There is only one reason for joining a Unitarian Universalist church” said John Wolf of All Souls in Oklahoma, “and that is: to support it.” “We come together,” he said,” to worship what is truly worthy of our sacrifice.” What we create here, in this holy place, is truly worthy of sacrifice.
This Sunday is the beginning of our appeal; an opportunity for us once again to look into our hearts to find what it is that we most treasure and value about this congregation and its mission. Then we have to empower ourselves to do just that. To that end, to create that mosaic of good will, requires our presence, our talents and our financial support. Let this be a place where your heart is, and make your treasure there also.
 Patrick T. O’Neil, Delivered at First Unitarian Church, Wilmington, Delaware on February 19, 2003
Source: 2003 Stewardship Sermon Award Winner
Copyright: The author has given Unitarian Universalist Association member congregations permission to reprint this piece for use in public worship. Any reprints must acknowledge the name of the author.
This congregation affirms and promotes the full participation of all persons in our activities welcoming everyone without regard to race, color, gender, physical or mental challenge, age, class, national origin or sexual orientation. For more information, the web site is: http://uumiddleboro.org.