Monday, April 04, 2011

Gathered and Sent

Gathered and Sent
A Sermon Given by Lizard Eater 
at half a dozen churches in South Texas

Okay, so there were three blind people and  … (Congregation: “An elephant.”)  Elephant?  No, no, man, that’d just be weird.  Three blind people and a Unitarian Universalist church.  They’d taken a quiz on beliefnet.com that said they were all UUs so they wanted to see what a Unitarian Universalist church was.

The first came in and heard the choir practicing. “Oh,” he said.  “Music.  A Unitarian Universalist church is where you make music and celebrate.”

The next stumbled over a toolbox. Picking up a hammer, she said, “No, church is where we find purpose.” 

The third reached out to her so he could examine the toolbox, but as he did, he also stumbled.  She caught him and he reached up and touched her cheek.  “Ah,” he said.  “A Unitarian Universalist church is where you make community.”

They then walked down to the corner coffeeshop to continue arguing about it, because that is what we blind Unitarian Universalists do!

Of course, they were all right.  A Unitarian Universalist church is where we celebrate, find purpose, and make community.  And learn.  And connect.  And find meaning. 

But at its core, church is where we are gathered, before being sent back out.  We are a gathered and sent people.  We are gathered together to strengthen our souls … and we are sent out to strengthen the world.

When we gather together, we worship.  Worship, from the Old English weorthscipe, means to shape what is of worth.  It’s where we take time to focus on what we value.  And when we do this, when we gather together to worship, we give praise, we receive inspiration and we are fortified.

Now, praise is one of those challenging terms for Unitarian Universalists, because we’ve heard it used as a requirement – that there’s a God that created us just to praise him … for most of us, that just seems awfully human for the Divine. 

But praise is about pausing and paying attention to what we value. And celebrating it. Because it’s so easy to take things for granted.  We just get busy with our lives. When we praise, we pause.

I’m yet again trying to get on a regular exercise regimen.  I went down to my YMCA and since the weather was nice, rather than exercising inside, I went down to a path they have around a pond.  I had my mp3 player with good music and just walking along, looking at the lilypads, and the water, and the trees, I just felt so close that process of life that I call God.  And I was going along, and there’s a bench down by the water.  I didn’t stop, though, because, I had my groove on.  Next time around though, (pants) …. I'd lost my groove.  So I sat down on the bench.  And then I took out my earbuds. And I could hear birds and the sounds of the trees.  And I noticed all the details … a pillbug trotting along, a fish down in the water … here, fishy fishy fishy. I paused..  And then this great, cool, burst of honeysuckle scented air just hit me full in the face.  You can’t buy gifts like that.  You can only receive them.  I paused.  And I praised.

And when we gather together, one of the gifts we receive is inspiration.  Whether it’s in the pulpit, or the coffee hour, or during RE, or the corner forum … we get to hear the ideas of others. And that’s one of the great, precious gifts that we inherited in this liberal faith.  That we  have so many places to look to find our own answers. Our answers may be found in Hinduism, Buddhism, humanism, process theology … for many of us, they’re found in our rich theological heritage of Unitarianism and Universalism.  We read Hosea Ballou, Margaret Fuller or James Luther Adams, we take the What Moves Us classes and learn about Forrest Church and the Cathedral of the World … we find, as did one of our fine youth, an epiphany.  We gather and we are inspired. 

The Rev. Forrest Church, who gave us much inspiration, died last year.  At the first service at his church after his funeral, the Rev. Galen Guengerich told of a conversation he had had with Forrest.  See, Forrest always ended his sermons with, “Amen.  I love you.  And may God bless us all.”  He explained to his friend why he did so. 
He said,  “I think people understand what I’m trying to communicate when I say “I love you” from the pulpit.” He listed the three kinds of love that are described in the New Testament: romantic love, friendship, and divine love—agape. “People know I’m not saying “I love you” in the romantic sense,” he explained, “or even in the sense that friends would say “I love you” to each other.” He went on to say, in a typically self-deprecating observation, that he thought some people found him rather reserved in person. “But when I say, “I love you” from the pulpit,” he said, “something connects—I get connected to the congregation and they get connected to each other. It’s almost like, for a moment at least, we all part of each other—of something larger than ourselves. It’s the human form of love divine, as Blake put it.” “And besides,” he added, “someone once told me that I’m the only person in her life who ever says “I love you.” She comes to church to hear someone say that she matters.”
She comes to church to hear someone say that she matters.

Everyone turn to someone right now and say, “I love you and there’s nothing you can do about it!” (congregation does so)

We gather to feel that love.  We gather to remember that we matter, and that our values matter.  And we are fortified.

And so, having given praise, and received inspiration, and been fortified, our souls have been strengthened.

And so we are sent out to strengthen the world.

Unitarian Horace Mann said “Be ashamed to die until you have won a victory for humanity.”  What will your victory be?

Sometimes, I think we – and by “we,” I mean, “I” … sometimes we hold ourselves back because we think that “victory” must mean something huge, dramatic, and life changing.  But something can also be small, quiet, and life changing.  Because you just can’t know what will change a life. As Mother Theresa said, “we can do no great things, only small things with great love.”   Small things with great love.  We need to gives ourselves permission to bless others, without feeling we must know that the final outcome is, or that we must be judge and jury for whether someone truly deserves our small blessing.

Often, we make simple things so complicated, either because we can see the big, final masterpiece … and don’t realize that we need to first, just start with “what is the minimum I need to do to get this up and running?” … or because we are so attached to a desired outcome that we’re afraid to begin.  We can’t see the entire path, so we’re afraid to take that first step.

I heard the Rev. Marlin Lavanhar talk about this when he was about to take the dramatic step of going to Uganda to help support those fighting the evil proposed laws against homosexuals there.  He talked about the difference between when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea and when they crossed the Jordan, like in our ancient readings today.

Sometimes, that path is clear and obvious.  We’re like Moses.  The enemy is at our back, the waters have been parted, “I know what to do, I can see my path.” Now, even when our path is clearly laid out for us, that doesn’t mean it’s easy.  We may feel we’re not ready.  We may feel we’re stepping into shoes five times too big.  We may look at that water to the right, water to the left, and be afraid of drowning.  But the path is laid out.  We need only to step out on it.

Sometimes, though, the path isn’t so clear, like in the book of Joshua.  We’re carrying that ark, it’s pretty heavy.  And we don’t see a path.  We have to wade in first, trusting that a path will appear.  Step out in faith. So we do.  And after we have waded in, after our ankles are wet, then the path opens.  Sometimes, we just have to wade in, and hope that the path appears.

I was talking about this with a friend of mine, he’s the pastor of a Missionary Baptist church in Sugar Land, and he said, Yeah, but what about Elisha. 

Oh man.

See with Elisha, he has just watched his mentor be swept away to heaven in a chariot of fire pulled by horses of fire. 

What to do now?  Well, first, he needs to cross back over the Jordan River. 

And sometimes we’re like Elisha.  Our souls have been strengthened.  And we are being sent out to strengthen the world.  But there’s no path there.  And we can wade out in the middle of it, but there’s still no path that we can see.  So Elisha he picks up the robe that Elijah left behind.  He had seen him roll it up and strike the waters, so he gives it a try.  And they part.  Sometimes we have to take what we’ve learned from others, and the tools we are given, and strike the waters.  Sometimes, we have to make our own path. 

A wise man said, “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase.”  Anyone know you said that?  Martin Luther King, Jr. said that, a man who knew both about gathering together in church to strengthen your soul, and then being sent out to strengthen the world.

This whole gathered and sent thing … this is the core of the missional church.  What does that mean, to be a missional church?

It means that every time you leave here, every Sunday, you go out into the world and you actively live as a Unitarian Universalist, you incarnate the values of Unitarian Universalism.  It means seeing people as beings who are meant to be loved and acting accordingly.  Feeding someone who is hungry.  Being in relationship with someone who needs a friend.  And doing these things, not because your church tells you to, but because you are Unitarian Universalism.  You are the hands and feet of this religion, these values, you are the hands and feet of the divine mystery.

I'm willing to bed that there are people here who feel like when they go through those front doors and leave this church, they are going out into a foreign world, a world that does not reflect their values.  A world that says buy this and you “need” that, a world where people ridicule the weak and promote hatred  and intolerance, a crass world that values celebrity over decency, flash over substance.  And you know what?  They’re right!  We are in a culture that often does not reflect our values. 

But the answer is not to hide here, to seek sanctuary here, not even to provide sanctuary here.  We are not a cave to hide out in.  We are missionaries.  We are missionaries.  And our job is to go out into that world out there, and spread kindness.  Love. Tolerance. 

But kindness.  Love.  Tolerance.  Those things by themselves, those forces, have no hands, have no feet.  Love is the most amazing power in the world, but love cannot literally hold open a door for someone burdened.  Love has no hands and no feet.

But we do.

We have hands and we have feet and we can walk out there, walk into that world, and be missionaries for what we hold to be true.  We can be the hands and feet of love.  And we can strengthen the world.

Every time we leave our church and go out to work for justice, we are strengthening the world.  Every time we leave our church and go out to extend kindness, we are strengthening the world.  And then we are gathered back together, to talk about the work we have done, to share how we have been walking humbly with our God and to worship together. And so it becomes this wonderful cycle of strengthening our souls and strengthening the world and the wheel just gets more and more momentum.  

We can build a land where we bind up the broken, restoring ruins of generations, we can build a land of people so bold.  Gathered and Sent, we’ll build a land.

Amen, I love you.  And May God bless us all.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

great sermon. thanks for sharing. Cinti mom

Elizabeth said...

Amen. I love you, too.

--Elizabeth in VT

Earthbound Spirit said...

Very cool. Love you, too, LE.

ms. kitty said...

You just get better and better at this, LE. One of these days, some congregation is going to be awfully lucky to hear you frequently!