Sermon “Live it Up”
Copyright: Sarah K. Person
Delivered: March 16, 2014 to The First Unitarian Universalist Society of Middleborough
For those of you who came today for my sermon, “Adam’s Fall,” I have news. You’ll have to wait until the end of the month to hear me on original sin. Instead, I’m going to talk about what makes us rise up together as one.
And why, you might be asking yourselves, am I talking about beginnings? We’ve been here a long time: 125 years and 11 days. You might think we’re way past beginnings. That’s why I chose John O’Donohue’s reading for today; because we’re not. Because the act of beginning is happening all the time. And nowhere is this more abundantly clear than at church.
What does it mean to continually live out our faith, and to do it here, in this church, for this beloved company? The answer is we don’t. We live it for those who are not here, and we help each other honor that commitment. Now, I know, some of you are thinking: “I just spent hours last night at an auction to raise money for this church and these people and I’ll be spending hours more before I’m done. What do you mean I’m not doing it for those who are here?”
Let me explain. We can be Unitarian Universalists, and we can live Unitarian Universalism. This is the act of beginning – and isn’t that a lovely notion for spring. We are called to be Unitarian Universalists, and we are called to live out this faith. In the words of A. Powell Davies, “that which commands you outwardly has first possessed you inwardly.” Being a Unitarian Universalist means growing one’s mind and heart so that we can respond to life with what is good and right and just and loving from deep inside. Living as a Unitarian Universalist means having one foot inside the sanctuary and one foot out the door—and yes, you heard me correctly! In this church we grow and heal ourselves, we grow a strong community, but we also grow our capacity to serve and heal the wider world. Growth always means understanding why we are who we are, understanding why we have to change, taking that leap of faith and bringing to life who and where and how we want to be.
What possesses you inwardly? What hope? What fear? What courage? What care? What thought captures your innermost sense of vocation, responsibility and freedom? What is your authentic self? There are as many answers to that question as there are people in this sanctuary. But I would venture to say that we all have one thing in common.
We are here in large part because we resist the messages we hear from society. We resist the conventional messages that surround us, that hurt us and others around us by stifling our hope and freedom. The Rev. Naomi King expresses it well;
“Only a few people are worth caring about, so get everything for yourself that you can.
If you aren’t wealthy, it’s your fault.
If you aren’t happy, it’s your fault.
And you better hope to get to heaven some day.”
(To that I would add;
If bad things happen to you, it’s your fault.
If you aren’t welcome here, then go somewhere else.)
“But, we live out a different message,” Rev. King says,
“Everyone is worth caring about, even if we have to struggle to see that.
We can have enough money and time and give to others, too.
There is such a thing as social inequity, and we are working to change that.
Happiness requires a great many things, and begins here in human connection and caring.
And whether there is a heaven or not, we need to get to work here and now.”
At any given time, we’ll be feeling the need to be healed more than the need to build community, or the need to build community more than the need to resist oppression, or the need to resist oppression more than the need to be healed. And this is fine. This is the gift of this Society, the sustaining gift of being part of something bigger, more compassionate, more forward-thinking, and more courageous than any one of us alone. We meet each other where we are – where we are called to be.
Not long ago, I asked you three questions. They were: what brought you here, what is your favorite memory, and what would you like to do more? A third of you responded. Most of you wanted more social action, to work for justice and healing in our community. The ones that looked inward wanted us to strengthen our connections, to establish that support that would help us mature spiritually as well as grow in numbers.
Listen to your own words:
“I would like to see us get on board with a hands-on Social Justice project. It is great that we are giving the money in the plate to various causes but that is not the same as putting in time and energy.”
“We first came to the church to provide a spiritual ‘home’ for our children. I would love to see us doing more for the teens.”
“I think we are best when we reach out to each other in time of need.”
“I would like to have a signature social ministry program that … meets an important but neglected need in our community,…”
In essence, you – we – are focused on those who need us, not just those who we need.
Who really needs us?
We need each other.
Our children need us.
Our youth need us. To survive their choices.
Those who are seeking…
Those who are oppressed.
Living this faith means living it for those who need us; doing what we can to raise up those who struggle with bad decisions, to raise up those who live in monotony and despair, to raise up those who just need a break, a warm place to sleep in a storm, a society that cares. Living this faith means setting an example of what it means to be good, and loving and just not just for our loved ones and each other but for the communities in which we live. Living this faith means preserving this society to do this, not just in our lifetimes but for generations to come.
My daughter Karen created a homily around a portion of Deuteronomy for her bat mitzvah. There was something about it that struck me at the time and I’m sharing it with you now. It captures Moses, at the moment he and his people finally catch sight of the promised land. What some of you may not know is that he himself never made it. Moses stood before the gathered multitude on Mount Nebo, overlooking the River Jordan and the land of Canaan beyond. And he said to them ‘I am a hundred and twenty years old this day; I can no more go out and come in; and the LORD hath said unto me: Thou shalt not go over this Jordan.’ (Deuteronomy 31)
But you, he also said, you have a choice laid out before you – your future stretches out ahead of you for generations. I have taught you everything you need to know to flourish. Choose to abide by what you have been taught and live. Choose to ignore these teachings and perish.
Moses and his people spent forty years learning that God loved them, learning how to love God, and learning how to treat one another in order to live up to that love. But Moses himself, the conduit to all that wisdom, was not part of that future. He only made it possible to begin.
Being part of a congregation is about being always in a state of liminality; of being stuck on one side of the Jordan River while your tribe is about to embark on its future, of having one foot in the sanctuary and one foot out the door, of being on the threshold of the rest of your life.
Each one of us is a co-creator. Each one of us is here to make the future possible.
It is time to make our hopes real, to bring our dreams to life, and to live up to the legacy that will make us proud.
Today is the beginning of our campaign. No, we won’t be asking for your pledge today, nor for some weeks to come. Today we will be asking for something equally if not more important. Today we will be asking for your intentions. We will be asking that you start to think about what you promise to be for each other, what you pledge to become as a people. We’ll explain how we use our resources to fulfill our promises right now, and we’ll explain to each the promises we hope to fulfill next year and for years to come. So join us for food and conversation and take away some ideas for how you might want to contribute your time, your talents, and your treasure to make our future possible.
It is a great honor, and a real pleasure, to serve you on this adventure.
 The Abundance of Our Faith, Terry Sweetser and Susan Milnor, eds., “Stand By This Faith” by Naomi King, Boston : Skinner House, © 2006, pp 15-16.